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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Emergence of Regionalism in Mumbai – History of the Shiv Sena

Inevitably, a visit home brings to surface the latent unease over the Shiv Sena.

The political, social and cultural behemoth that controls Bombay (which it renamed Mumbai in the 1990s) continues to flourish, and grow, apparently despite the dwindling Maharashtrian population in the capital of Maharashtra.

Today, in fact, the organization’s base has seemingly widened to encompass other (non-Maharashtrian) communities as well, and it could well be ruling the state in coalition with its partner the Bharatiya Janata Party later this year after elections to the state assembly conclude.

Thriving on a combination of cultural nationalism, regional chauvinism, and xenophobia, the Shiv Sena has completely changed Bombay's character. The party’s formation lay in the slogan ‘Mumbai is in Maharashtra but there is no Maharashtra in Mumbai’. The party has never really veered away from its core demand to give better representation to the local Marathi population in Mumbai.

I picked up The Emergence of Regionalism in Mumbai – Historyof the Shiv Sena by Sudha P. Gogate (1932-1987). The book – published by Popular Prakashan – is a doctoral thesis produced in 1978. The author had plans to edit and publish it but passed away suddenly in 1987.

The book provides amazing details of the years prior to and immediately after the formation of the Shiv Sena, and the author has through research successfully been able to weave a story that makes for compelling reading, especially for those interested in the history and the development of Bombay.

Eschewing the flourishes of a journalist, Dr. Gogate has focussed on facts and unearthed details that are a revelation. Many of the facts would be known to a veteran journalist or someone who has lived through the era, and has followed the fortunes of the Shiv Sena over the last five decades.

Describing the groundswell of support for Marathi aspirations, Dr. Gogate says, “As early as 26 January 1964, the Indian Republic day, the editor of the Maratha [the colourful Pralhad Keshav (Acharya) Atre] declared at a private meeting at Shiv Shakti, from where the Maratha was published, his resolve to found a youth organization of 100,000 youths from Maharashtra, which was to devote itself to the interests and the services of Maharashtra. On 27 January 1964, the Maratha carried a front-page banner Acharya Atre to found Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

Atre’s Shiv Sena, according to the report, was to be a revolutionary organization of young men below the age of 21. A quotation by Samarth Ramadas, the 17th-century poet saint ‘Let the Marathas unite!’ May the Marathi spirit grow!’ formed the motto of the proposed Shiv Sena of Atre.”

Of course, Atre’s Shiv Sena didn’t materialize, and two years later, on June 19 1966, Bal Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena, and forever changed Bombay.   

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