The Great Makeover: A Brief History of a “Secular” Shiv Sena


The Great Makeover: A Brief History of a “Secular” Shiv Sena

Illustration: Siddhakanksha Mishra

The Shiv Sena has had a busy few months. From protecting the rights of potholes, to cutting down forests in the middle of the night, to protesting about an unknown entity cutting down forests in the middle of night — there’s enough going on there to fill a number of election manifestoes. And today, as party president Uddhav Thackeray assumes the post of Maharashtra’s next Chief Minister, the Shiv Sena also seems to have found the time to go through a major image overhaul.

As soon as the Sena announced its alliance with the NCP and the Congress in Maharashtra, there was immediate speculation over whether Lord Ram would be pleased with our new government. Does this alliance mean — as a few of us would like to believe — that the Shiv Sena has given up on Hindutva ideology and is now a very secular party? Or does this mean that the Congress and NCP have now agreed that the only way to win an election is to pretend to be on the same side as the BJP and Shiv Sena?

Well, if you ask NCP leader Nawab Malik, the answer is that the Shiv Sena, had never been a communal party at all. “The Shiv Sena was not born to do communal politics, they came into existence to serve the people of Maharashtra. Shiv Sena was spoiled after joining hands with the BJP,” Malik said, presumably before announcing that he had lost his memory in a tragic accident. Meanwhile, another article in India Today cheekily observes that Uddhav Thackeray has even stopped wearing saffron kurtas since Sena’s push for tolerance began. Pictured below the statement is Uddhav pictured with his son Aaditya wearing a sky-blue shirt.

Apparently that’s all it takes to become a secular party these days — tie up with the Congress, and don’t wear orange clothes. Why has no one thought of that before? Who cares if just a year ago, you were calling for the “compulsory sterilisation” of Muslims? As long as you break away from the NDA, everything’s forgotten. In this spirit, let’s take a look at a few of the Shiv Sena’s most-heartwarming moments, when the party has displayed saintly levels of tolerance.

Basically the Shiv Sena is always secular unless there’s an ancient temple to be built, or the Constitution of India is forcing them to be secular.

Such as an incident that took place earlier today.

During a press conference, a reporter is heard asking the CM-in-waiting Uddhav Thackeray if his party was “secular” now, since the word was included in the Congress’s “common minimum programme”, which Sonia Gandhi had asked Uddhav to support. Far from impressed by the question, Uddhav asked the reporter what they meant by secular. The future Pulitzer winner, to their credit, persisted: “What does it mean according to you?”

The now angry Uddhav responds, “Whatever is written in the Constitution, that is secularism.” And that’s that. Everyone present, including our Indian Bob Woodward, had to go home satisfied with how much the Shiv Sena values the word.

The Sena has, in fact, adopted the spirit of secularism so well, it actually doesn’t need reminders from the Constitution anymore. That’s why three years ago, party leader Sanjay Raut claimed that both the words “socialism” and “secularism” should be “deleted” from the Constitution of India. The outburst came days after the I&B Ministry apparently “forgot” to include the words in a Republic Day advertisement. Doesn’t take much to see which party at least bothered to appear “secular”.

But that’s the Constitution, right? Political parties are always changing the Constitution to keep things fresh. What about the courts? The Shiv Sena has always shown immense tolerance for the judicial system of our country, at least…

Except for that one time, of course, when it informed alliance partner BJP, that it wouldn’t wait for the courts to do anything on Ram Mandir, because, the courts “won’t do anything on the matter.” Instead, as a leader of the secular party, Sanjay Raut said, “We don’t want to pay attention. We didn’t ask the court before demolishing the Babri structure 25 years ago.”

Basically the Shiv Sena is always secular unless there’s an ancient temple to be built, or some inconveniently binding legal document like the Constitution of India is forcing them to be secular. Just the way they respect folks from all other states, the way they respect public property, the way they respect an individual’s right to life and liberty, the way they respect capitalism. Of course, they don’t really like Pakistani actors, musicians, singers, or cricketers (Fawad Khan says hi!) either, so don’t go by any of those news reports and assume that the Sena is some silly “Hindutva” party. Just look at Uddhav’s shirt!

Anyway, forget about all this talk about Hindutva and secularism, the Shiv Sena also has other skills, you know. Such as being able to collect hafta rather efficiently, as former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis once noted. They are also reportedly very efficient at “guarding” the Congress and NCP MLAs in the run up to the floor test, and any young couple will tell you how well they protect the city during Valentine’s Day. That’s the Shiv Sena’s true legacy. Not Hindutva or Secularism or any other buzzword.