By the politicisation of the ‘Marathi Manoos’ issue, the Shiv Sena, and now the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have meant that the other aspects of the Marathi or Maharashtrian identity got suppressed or fell by the wayside. Consequently, any effort to preserve or promote Marathi culture, language and literature was seen as a parochial enterprise. Explaining his silence on the Shiv Sena at his election rallies so far in Maharashtra, Modi said he would not speak a word against the BJP’s alienated ally as a “tribute” to the late Balasaheb Thackeray. During his election rallies in Beed, Aurangabad and Mumbai, Modi had attacked the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party but avoided any mention of the Sena. He was very careful while delivering his speech, there was absolute silence on breakup. At the same time, he invoked Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji multiple times.
Sena claimed that BJP was trying to loot Maharashtra. “What was the purpose of Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel’s visit to Mumbai recently? She told industrialists in Maharashtra to move base from here to Gujarat. She is trying to plunder Maharashtra? Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray too had raked the same issue in his rally. The Sena also came down heavily on BJP invoking Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a State icon. It also claimed that BJP aimed at axing Maharashtra into different parts including Vidarbha, and that the Sena will always stand for a unified Maharashtra.
If we get into history, Shivaji Maharaj was an Indian warrior king and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan. He was king of independent Maratha Empire with Raigad as its capital. Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with the help of a disciplined military and well-structured administrative organisation. He innovated military tactics, pioneering the guerrilla warfare methods (Shiva sutra or ganimi kava), which leveraged strategic factors like geography, speed, surprise and focused pinpoint attacks to defeat his larger and more powerful enemies. From a small contingent of 2,000 soldiers inherited from his father, Shivaji created a force of 100,000 soldiers; he built and restored strategically located forts both inland and coastal to safeguard his territory. He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and court conventions and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, rather than Persian, in court and administration. Shivaji’s legacy was to vary by observer and time but began to take on increased importance with the emergence of the Indian independence movement, as many elevated him as a proto-nationalist and hero of the Hindus. Particularly in Maharashtra, debates over his history and role have engendered great passion and sometimes even violence as disparate groups have sought to characterise him and his legacy. Shivaji had no role in establishing Mumbai or Maharashtra, he was a great warrior and he was fighting for the independence from the Mughals. Anyways many Marathi political leaders made him a political tool to exploit common Marathi population’s emotions.
Balasaheb Thackeray was a great follower and admirer of Shivaji Maharaj and named his party Shiv Sena after him. This is the first election in Maharashtra to be held in the absence of Balasaheb Thackeray. Modi showed maturity by not commenting on Shiv Sena but he preferred to hang on with Shivaji Maharaj. Modi’s strategy could be aimed at weaning away the Sena voters, even as it helps the BJP keep a door open for any post-poll eventuality. He not only silenced Sena without giving any scope for retaliation, but forced it to refrain from making any adverse remarks against the BJP. Uddhav has much to lose than BJP by stretching his seat-sharing demand to a breaking point. Even if Raj joins hands with Uddhav, chances of a good performance by both SS and MNS look precariously bleak. Bal Thackeray would have never brought the issue to this stage.
Issues such as education and training of Marathi youth for the new economy, parity of Marathi and English in schools and higher educational institutions, promotion and use of Marathi in day-to-day governance, a comprehensive culture and language policy of the government have all fallen off the agenda. The sons-of-the-soil or the ‘Marathi Manoos’ has been the Sena’s emotive issue, but during its 25 years of governing the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, it has not been able to prevent Marathi medium civic schools from shutting down. Other issues hardly ever appeared on Sena’s agenda. Marathi is instantly seen through the prism of the Shiv Sena or the MNS. The progressive and liberal ethos of the Marathi Manoos has been over-ridden by the aggressive politics of the Sena. “There’s, of course, the contribution of Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar. There’s also the entire intellectual thought of MG Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak which hardly ever comes into public discourse. The Marathi tradition of vyakhyanmala (lecture series) pre-dates the TED and TEDx events by more than a century. There is a need to go beyond the politics of Marathi Manoos and Shivaji Maharaj.