The great game in India kickstarted by British intelligence in India in late 19th century is being played out today inside the country

By Hiren Gohain

The great game in India kickstarted by British intelligence in India in late 19th century is being played out today inside the country. Forces set in motion then have now acquired the power of a tornado that could level down structures built over three quarters of a century laboriously by fits andstarts. And these are fully conscious purposeful forces only not aware of their having been programmed in the dim past.

They have been dreaming of the final lap for a hundred years,ever since their founding in deeply entrenched Brahminical Hindubases, working patiently, devotedly, biding their time ,enduring setbacks in a mood of sacrifice and penance.It has been a golden dawn for them,the last thirty years,while other forces weaken and become limp, fatalistically drifting into an unpredictable and uncharted future.Now they are almost racing into the final lap and are not going to abandon the field without any reason.Indeed they are bent on using whatever stratagem is best suited to rush to a triumphant finale.

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It is only against such a background that the dramatic coup in Maharashtra can be grasped properly.Generosity and gallant yielding of ground now will be only inane pusillanimity for them. The first attempt was launched with Ajit Pawar of the NCP as their cat's paw, with all the furore of instant approval of the Governor and the hurried consent of a president woken up at the middle of the night, to carry it through, and it fumbled and failed as it was conceived in haste and executed with amateurish ham handedness. It had to be a more professional business planned in a central board room and executed by painstakingly coached and drilled performers. And the plan had to be based on proper feedback from the ground.

Shiv Sena had its origin in the unrest and anger of Maratha commoners of lower middle class and middle class origin, the small businessmen, urban employees of small and middle private firms, hordes of the unemployed, and small and middle farmers. Thebig farmers cum sugar-mill owners turned monopolists holding co-operative flags were trooping into Sharad Pawar's camp inside the Congress and were later main support-base of NCP. Sharad Joshi was mobilizing small farmers for a militant farmers' movement (ShetkariSangathan) against the elite urban power monopoly under socialist colour, holdingup its sleeve the project of private peasant enterprise free from state and social constraints.It naturally sought allies among the great Dalit assertion with mounting militancy and revolutionary fervor but out of sympathy with the class politics of the communists as the latter were fumbling in the waning years with declining trade unions unsure of their footing in the developing new circumstances of loss of state support and ideological passion.The advent of neo-liberal policies struck an even harder blow at the Left.

It was in such an environment of diverse conflicting trends that Bal Thackeray's appeal to the ‘Marathi Manush'(the Maratha commoner) gained strength among large numbers of unorganized yet passionately aggrieved people.

In these circumstances with rise of identity politics the Maratha middle class and lower middle-class were getting marginalized and groping for a grip on the changing social life, and Balasaheb Thackeray, an accomplished cartoonist, a fiery orator and consummate tactician of the struggles on the street appeared to fill the void with his brand of xenophobic regionalism aimed first against South Indian office employees (and not against the powerful Gujarati merchants and big businessmen). He is even said to have willingly provided the bludgeon to clobber into silence and submission the militant trade unions.Naturally, the Congress government of the time courted his favors, as seen in photo ops like Chief Minister A.R.Antulay being presented with a symbolic sword of Shivajee by cheering Shiv Sainiks. It did not show much interest in Islamophobicpolitics at that time, providing some evidence that it tended toseek alliance with the hegemonic power at the centre in league with big monopoly capitalwhile maintaining its own independence regionally from the beginning. Bal Thackeray also had some connection with the film fraternity through a film magazine he was editing at that time.

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But street politics alone did not explain his hold on his support-base. A budding sociologist had revealed in an issue of SOCIAL SCIENTIST (a Left scholarly magazine in or about 1972) the meticulous and well-organized work of community service and relief carried on by Shiv Sainiks in every village or urban neighborhood , like watching over the sick, bringing food to the starving, intervening with authorities in helping the poor to get ration cards, and of course forcing employers from outside to provide work to Marathi employees. It was not quite clear if this Marathi identity covered Muslims, Christians and Dalits. However, given the contribution of Brahminical Hindu writers in giving shape earlier to this Marathi identity through literature and journalism, there seems to have been significant silence. It however might explain the ease with which Shiv Sena later glided into violentIslamo-phobic roles. Among notable instances one recalls the frenzy with which the pitch where the Pakistani cricket team was to play had been dug up and disfigured.

But with success in elections and administrative burden also came adaptation to more constructive humdrum work in a calmer atmosphere. The control of the cash-rich BM Municipal Corporation also inaugurated a phase of systematic rewards to workers on the ground as well as lobbying by the latter for various benefits to their ranks and supporters. Still later Shiv Sena's seizing the Chief Minister's post and its then alliance partner BJP biding meekly for its time seem to have enhanced the Shiv Sena's sense of its pre-eminence. But in the next round with the BJP cornering more than double the number of seats under its belt the equation changed, and the BJP refused to yield the top position in the government to its partner. And it was not merely Uddhav Thackeray's resentment at being denied the coveted top position but also his canny intuition that yielding ground on this point would initiate slow but sure erosion of the Sena's authority until its absorption into BJP, that led to his breaking up the partnership and forming the Maha Vikash Aghadi government with former enemies.The Eknath Shinde group which now seems to be supplanting Uddhav's power over elected members of legislative bodies and corporation does not seem to realize that their hour of glory would be brief and they would inexorably be brought down to the ground with BJP taking over reins of control. IdeologicallyBJP now appears a natural ally, but politically it is an invincible threat to the kind of identity politics in which they excelled. (Some of the facts have been drawn from an opinion-piece in THE HINDU of the 11thJuly, though not its conclusions.)

Though they claim that owing to the common Hindutva agenda BJP is their natural ally, they forget the crucial fact that in their scheme of things the regional cause comes first, but the BJP puts first emphasis on the national. The subtle shift in emphasis means that the regional may be supplanted by the overall national interest.Uddhav Thackeray has grasped it well, but it is not yet clear if he will be able to muster the toughness and agility of the rough and tumble of fight at the grassroots for galvanizing the ordinary Shiv Sainiks to defend their regional fortress. Big money seems to have played a big role in the various subterfuges and manipulations bringing the Sena to this pass, and there is every likelihood that unless the ranks are ideologically galvanized to defend the regional cause money might become the acid to weaken the ties between the top leader and grassroots workers.

One does not see how the partners in the MVA alliance can help Uddhav in his quandary and they might get tempted to poach on the territory held by the Sena.But it may be more profitable in the long run to lend him a helping hand to keep out of the highly divisive and incendiary politics of Hindutva. The man most visible in the extraordinary and dramatic shift in loyalties is Home Minister Amit Shah, as was made clear by the pilgrimage Eknath Shinde made to meet him before returning to the battle-lines in his home-state, and he is sure to use all the levers to the advantage of the new combine and particularly that of his own party.

Maharashtra is a major state,and the stakes are high. If Uddhav decides to play for a long game and outwit the seemingly invincible new combine of renegades and BJP, he may be able to steer the party out of the mazes to the relief of all who are concerned for the future of the country. Among other things he will have to persuade the middle-ranking leaders that the system of patronage and sharing of the booty from hold on power was outdated and it had also provided the BJP the ammunition against them through ED. Some other method for benefitting from incumbency will have to be devised. But the ‘ifs’ are formidable.

If on the other hand Uddhav Thackeray submits, he will have to remain content with some glorified but insignificant lackey’s role and look on as his great army gets reduced to a band of camp-followers.

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