Reviews

Shiv Sena’s pre-history

THE EMERGENCE OF REGIONALISM IN MUMBAI — History of the Shiv Sena: Sudha Gogate; Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., 301, Mahalaxmi Chambers, 22, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai-400026. Rs. 495.

THE EMERGENCE OF REGIONALISM IN MUMBAI — History of the Shiv Sena: Sudha Gogate; Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., 301, Mahalaxmi Chambers, 22, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai-400026. Rs. 495.   | Photo Credit: V. Sukumar

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A research work dating back to the 1970s traces the roots of regionalism in Mumbai

Politics of regionalism in India has always attracted attention for a variety of reasons. Regionalism may be seen as an unavoidable consequence of democratic contestations during the process of nation-building within a diverse society. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the factors that shape regionalism and the character of regional politics. The issues of language, material resources and identity are often intricately woven in the politics of regionalism. Shiv Sena represents one particular expression of such regional politics and therefore, has been a subject of scholarly attention right from its early days.

In the mid-seventies, a scholar of Sociology undertook her Ph.D. research on this phenomenon. The book under review is the outcome of that research. The author, Sudha Gogate, did not have the opportunity to revise her dissertation for purposes of publication since she passed away in 1987. This book therefore, is a doctoral dissertation written in 1978 and has neither the benefit of the author’s subsequent revisions nor the advantage of being brought up-to-date. In spite of this limitation, this book has a very valuable relevance for those who want to understand Shiv Sena’s rise and also to those who want to address the complex issue of linguistic and regional identity in the context competitive politics. While existing works on Shiv Sena attempt to depict the working of the Sena, the personalities involved and the social composition of its activists in early years, etc., this work has a distinct advantage. It introduces us to the pre-history of Shiv Sena.

Marathi mind

The researcher has meticulously gone through contents of large-circulation Marathi newspapers of Mumbai in order to test the hypothesis that the rise of Shiv Sena was based on a sense of injury and ‘relative deprivation’ (sense of being deprived of a group’s rightful share in material and symbolic resources) among the Marathi people of the city. While the researcher seems to be mildly sympathetic to the sense of injury, she has presented here not her assessments and views, but a narrative of what was going on in the ‘Marathi mind’ during much of the decade of 1960s. She argues that those sentiments of unease, injury and deprivation constituted the normative support the Shiv Sena could muster in its early years.

This work looks at news reports, editorial comments and readers’ letters in the Marathi newspapers published from Mumbai related to issues of job opportunity, migration of non-Marathi people, non-use of Marathi language in the public sphere, etc. What would strike the reader today is the fact that when Shiv Sena was formed, a feeling of deprivation already existed among the educated sections of the Marathi community of Mumbai. Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena were of course enterprising enough to give that feeling a concrete political expression. But if they had not seized the initiative, the issue would have been addressed by some other organisational vehicle. In fact, as this work shows, an organisation called Maharashtra Hitwardhini had already made its appearance.

This research, for the most part, does not try to establish if ‘objectively speaking’ the Marathi people were discriminated against or not in the Mumbai of the 1960s. Its emphasis is more on the subjective perceptions of the Marathi people. The social-cultural atmosphere of Mumbai of that time is the key factor to understand how and why Shiv Sena and regionalism came to exist in Mumbai. During the protracted struggle for the formation of the Marathi speaking state, one key issue of contestation was the city of ‘Bombay’. While Guajarati speaking people had staked a claim to Mumbai, some prominent citizens of Mumbai were toying with the idea of making the city a separate politico-administrative entity. In response, the pro-Maharashtra agitation spent lot of intellectual energy and political acumen on arguing that Mumbai belongs to Marathi people. While public figures like Atre were making strong and populist political arguments why Mumbai should belong to Maharashtra, economists like D. R. Gadgil were part of those seeking to make a cogent socio-economic argument in favour of the Marathi view point. The Communists were also arguing that given the Marathi character of the working class of the city, it was a product of and so belonged to the linguistic community from which most workers came.

Newspapers’ role

In this sense, the issue of Mumbai was already there in the consciousness of the Marathi middle class. In addition to this, one of the most difficult and repressive moments during the agitation — the firing on demonstrators — took place in Mumbai. Subsequent to the formation of Maharashtra in 1960, the discourse of Marathi pride and control over Mumbai by Marathi people continued. The newspapers in the city played an important role both during the movement and after the formation of the state. This research work very effectively (though mostly unintentionally!) brings out this dimension of the shaping of Marathi identity politics. Many have retrospectively realised that the vigour and bite of Thackeray’s language had a close resemblance to that of Acharya Atre, the stalwart of the Samyukt Maharashtra Movement who also ran a popular Marathi daily, Maratha. But more than that, the writings in Maratha —editorials in particular — which are referred to in this book, may be seen as precursors to the language of pride, identity and resistance that Shiv Sena and Thackeray popularised later. Not only that, as this book reports, in 1964, Atre had announced his intention to start a new youth organisation which was to be named as Shiv Sena! His offices were located in the building named as Shiv Shakti. In this sense, both a feeling of deprivation and an expectation that united action by the Marathi people was necessary, already existed for quite some time before the formation of Shiv Sena in 1966. The belated publication of this book would help readers appreciate that the rise of regionalism and of Shiv Sena was a development shaped by both the history of the formation of the Marathi-speaking state and the politics of Mumbai city after 1960.

The Emergence Of Regionalism In Mumbai — History of the Shiv Sena : Sudha Gogate; Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., 301, Mahalaxmi Chambers, 22, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai-400026. Rs. 495.

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