Shiv Sena (Devanāgarī: शिव सेना Śīv Senā, meaning Army of Shiva, referring to Shivaji) is a right-wing political party in India founded on June 19, 1966 by Bal Thackeray, who is currently the president of the party. The Sena’s ideology is based on the concepts of ‘Bhumiputra’ (Marathi for “Sons of Soil”) and Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. The ‘Bhumiputra’ ideology refers to the Shiv Sena’s belief that Maharashtrians deserve more rights in Maharashtra than those who are not from Maharashtra. However, in recent times, the Sena has laid more emphasis on Hindutva. In the 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004), it had 15 (out of 545) members. During that period, the party was part of the government coalition at the national level. Manohar Joshi, a Shiv Sainik, was the Speaker of Lok Sabha 2002-2004.
Shiv Sena has its employment cell Shiv Udyog Sena. Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (“Indian Worker’s Army”), a labour union, is affiliated to the Shiv Sena. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (“All India Students’ Army”) is the student wing of Shiv Sena.
Origins of the Shiv Sena
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Shiv Sena poster in Kolkata
After the incorporation of the Bombay presidency in the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra, Mumbai gained the status of economic capital of India and attracted a large number of migrants from other states. Within a short period of time, non-Maharashtrians, especially people belonging to the Gujarati and Marwari communities, owned the majority of the industry and trade in the city.. Moreover, a large number people from South Indian migrated to Mumbai during this period and soon filled a number of white-collar jobs. The Shiv Sena was thus born out of a feeling of resentment about the ‘marginilization’ of the native Marathi people in their own state by people who had migrated from other states. The Shiv Sena especially attracted a large number of disgruntled and often unemployed Maharashtrian youth, who were pulled towards Thackeray’s charged anti-migrant oratory.
Shift to Hindutva and Alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party
The Sena started placing more weight on the Hindutva ideology in the 1970s as the hallmark ‘sons of the soil’ cause was weakening. With the shift to Hindutva, Thackeray increasingly made some controversial moves against Muslims and neighboring Pakistan.
The party has ruled the state in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The SS-BJP did however lose the 2004 state assembly election. The Sena is now the main opposition party in the state. The BJP-SS combine governs the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Traditionally the main strongholds of SS have been Mumbai and the Konkan coastal areas. However, in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections the result was reversed. The Shiv Sena made inroads in the interior parts of the state, while suffering losses in Mumbai.
As the Pramukh (Chief) of the party Bal Thackeray takes all major decisions, and has claimed that he ran the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government of 1995 to 1999 with what he called a ‘remote control.’ Activists and members of the Shiv Sena call themselves Shiv Sainiks, and carry out most of the party’s grassroot work. In recent times, Thackeray does not concern himself with day-to-day activities of the party, which is run by his youngest son Uddhav Thackeray.
The recently refurbished Sena Bhavan located in the Dadar locality in Mumbai has served as the headquarters of the Sena since 1976. The Sena’s shakhas (local offices) spread throughout the state of Maharashtra as well as in selected locations in other states decide upon most of the local issues in their particular cities or towns.
Achievements of the Shiv Sena
Claims of benefits to Maharashtrians
Supporters of the Sena have claimed that the party has benefited the Marathi Manus (Marathi man) in Mumbai, especially in the public sector. However, the Sena has allegedly done little to solve the problem of unemployment facing a large proportion of Maharashtrian youth during its tenure, in contradiction to its ideological foundation of ‘sons of the soil.’
The Sena claims to have played a central role in the emancipation of 500,000 slum dwellers in the Dharavi area of Mumbai, the largest slum in Asia.  However, the state’s policy of giving free houses to slum dwellers has been mired in controversy ever since it was introduced by the Shiv Sena-BJP government a decade ago  .
Improvements in infrastructure
In addition, the Sena has been active in trying to improve infrastructure in Maharashtra, particularly in the financial capital of Mumbai. Nearly 40 flyovers in Mumbai and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway were constructed under the Shiv Sena administration, which led to a significant infrastructural boom in Mumbai. While successive State governments have been guilty of neglecting Mumbai’s transport problems, the erstwhile Shiv Sena-BJP government drastically altered the course. Moreover, by initiating a range of road schemes, the Sena unequivocally opted for private, motorised transport in preference to public transport.
These moves have been a crucial factor in its increasing popularity within India and the promises of further improvement have boosted the Shiv Sena’s campaigns.
Controversial activities of the Shiv Sena
During its early years, the Sena occassionally resorted to violence and threats against people belonging to other Indian communities as part of its ‘sons of the soil’ ideology. In the early years of the Sena, the party’s widely circulated Marathi language-weekly Marmik was instrumental in inflamming the anti-migrant sentiment in Mumbai’s Maharashtrians. Thackeray, then a cartoonist for the Free Press journal, initially targeted the growing number of South Indians by inflammatory slogans like “lungi hatao pungi bajao” (referring to the lungi, a Marathi word for the traditional men’s dress in South India), and “yendu gundu” (a derogatory description of the Dravidian languages spoken by the people from South India). During this period, Shiv Sainiks launched a string of attacks on the South-Indian owned Udupi restaurants that were becoming popular in Mumbai. In a similar manner, Thackeray later targeted Gujaratis, Marwaris, Biharis, and people from North Indian states like Uttar Pradesh (‘UPites’) through his speeches. Moreover, Thackeray threatened a number of local industrialists and businessmen with action unless they offered preferential employment to Maharashtrian people.The Sena thus succeeded in fulfilling a critical economic need of the Maharashtrians and in return was supported by a solid socio-political vote-bank.Industrialists rarely objected to the Sena’s clout—since Sena leader Thackeray’s draconian control over the employees would ensure a peaceful work environment .
Shiv Sainiks burn Valentine’s Day cards in Kolkata to protest ‘vulgar’ western influences on Hindu culture
The Sena is has been accused of being involved in coordinated political violence in order to propagate its ideologies and attack opposing ideologies. For this reason, it has sometimes been described as a militant right-wing group.
In the 1970s, Shiv Sena members were accused as responsible for killing Krishna Desai, CPI MLA from the Parel neighbourhood in Central Mumbai. However, the attackers were not indicted for murder. On February 8, 2006, Sena workers, led allegedly by Sena’s student wing, attacked the office of the Zee TV channel, ransacking and damaging the office. The attack came in response to a satirical skit titled ‘Kaka mala Vachva’ ( Marathi for ‘Uncle, protect me’), staged during the awards function hosted by the channel at the Bandra-Kurla complex. The skit was reportedly a comment on the power tussle within the Thackeray family, which ultimately resulted in the exit of Thackeray’s nephew Raj from the party some time ago.
In addition to its campaign against non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai, the Shiv Sena protests have been known to break down into violence and force in public in the name of protecting Hindutva from what it deems as corrupting western influences. The party has been involved in organized protests, pickets, market shutdowns and strikes that have been known to degenerate into violent clashes and in some instances riots. For instance, Shiv Sena activists have attacked shops in Mumbai selling gifts for Valentine’s Day as part of the party’s campaign against ‘vulgar’ western influences on youth. Likewise, in 1998, Shiv Sainiks attacked movie theatres in Mumbai screening director Deepa Mehta’s Fire, a highly controversial film based on a lesbian theme on the grounds that such films violated Hindu ethos and were immoral for Hindus to watch. As a result, the screening of the movie was withdrawn. Later, members of the Sena’s Varanasi branch launched aggressive protests against the filming of Mehta’s Water, on the grounds that such films were made with the designs of intentionally defaming Hinduism by portraying Varanasi and other holy cities in an innacurate and negative light. As a result of the protests, the location for shooting the film was shifted to the neighbouring Sri Lanka.
Allegations of violence against Muslims
The Shiv Sena has also been accused of orchestrating violence against Muslims. The Sena is widely alleged to have played an active role in the riots in Mumbai following the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 in the north-Indian holy city of Ayodhya. On 23 January 1993, the then Congress-led Government of Maharashtra appointed Justice B.N. Srikrishna (then a sitting Judge of the Bombay High Court) to head a one-man commission with the task of investigating the riots. The Commission indicted the Sena for its direct involvement in coordinating the anti-Muslim riots, and accused Thackeray of “commanding his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims.” However, Thackeray was absolved of all criminal charges in July 2000 after seven years of judicial proceedings.
Additionally, as part of their efforts to hamper any collaboration between India and the Muslim dominated Pakistan, Shiv Sainiks have resorted to damaging cricket pitchs in stadiums where the Indian and Pakistani cricket team were scheduled to play. The two most prominent instances of the Sena’s targeting pitches are the destruction of the pitch at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in 1991 and the vandalizing of the Feroz Shah Kotla Grounds pitch in national capital Delhi in 1999. The Sena orchestrated these activities in an atmosphere of growing tensions between the two nations.
Claims of tempered stance
In an interview in 1998, Thackeray claims to have tempered his stance on many issues that the Shiv Sena had with Muslims, particularly regarding the Babri Mosque or Ramjanmabhoomi issue , saying: “We must look after the Muslims and treat them as part of us.” In addition, some members of the Sena claim that the party does not discriminate on the basis of religion and is based on pure nationalism.
Meenatai desecration protests
On July 9, 2006, after some unidentified miscreants desecrated the statue of Meenatai (the late wife of Bal Thackeray), Shiv Sainiks blocked roads at Dadar in central Mumbai and damaged a police outpost, and later launched statewide protests mired with isolated incidences of violence in Nagpur, Pune, Nashik and other cities in Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena & MNS Clashes
On October 10, 2006 clashes erupted between supporters of Shiv Sena and Maharastra Navnirman Sena headed by Raj Thackery. It was alleged that workers of MNS had tore the posters bearing the photographs of Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackrey near the SIES college in Mumbai. Later as retaliation it was alleged that Shiv Sena workers brought down the hoardings with Raj Thackrey’s photo near the Sena Bhavan at Dadar.
As the news spread about the incident groups gathered near the Sena Bhavan and started pelting stones at each other. In this incident a policeman was injured and many supporters of both parties were injured. To restore normalcy in the situation the police fired tear gas shells at the mob.
Normalcy was eventually restored following police action and the appearance of Uddhav Thackeray and his cousin Raj Thackeray on the spot. Uddhav appealed to Sena workers to go back home .He said:
“The police will take necessary action. This is happening because many people are joining us from MNS. The defections have started and that is why they are resorting to such actions”.
The division chief of the Shiv Sena Milind Vaidya said that they had lodged a complaint with the local police against an MNS worker who was involved in the oncident. MNS general secretary Pravin Darekar, however, pinned the cause down to local elections in the SIES college. He alleges that the Sena is concerned about losing their hold over the colleges and that is why they are trying to color the issue, adding that the Sena’s allegations had no merit. Raj Thackeray asserts that MNS could not have vandalized the pictures, seeing as how he and his members revere Bal Thackeray.
Shiv Sena in literature
The novelist V. S. Naipaul mentioned the Shiv Sena in his book India: A Wounded Civilization: “There was one portrait. And interestingly, it was not of the leader of the Shiv Sena or of Shivaji, the Sena’s warrior god, but of the long-dead Dr. Ambedkar (…) Popular-and near-ecstatic-movements like the Shiv Sena ritualize many different needs. The Sena here, honouring an angry and (for all his eminence) defeated man, seemed quite different from the Sena the newspapers wrote about.”