The show of brawn on the streets of Mumbai by Shiv Sena workers following the comment by Union Minister Narayan Rane that he would have slapped Uddhav Thackeray if he had been present on the occasion where the chief minister was delivering his Independence Day address, as the latter could not recall for how many years the country has been free, does not surprise. For a perceived or real sense of hurt, the party’s men have held city life to ransom, and their hoodlums do not restrict their lumpen behaviour to the home turf of Maharashtra. But just because this has been a common sight since the inception of the Shiv Sena does not make the conduct of the party registered with the Election Commission of India acceptable. Parties ranging from the INC in Delhi during the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 to the Trinamool Congress in May this year and before have been even murderous but never officially. India has unfortunately been witness to hooliganism by several groups, most of which are formed overnight in reaction to a provocative development, but there is the police force everywhere to deal with the anarchists. Similar behaviour by a political party, with no show of remorse by its leadership nor a meaningful gesture of disowning the violent cadre, amounts to a violation of the sacred oath it takes to abide by the constitution, part of which entails never becoming a law unto oneself. As and when someone ‘insults’ members of a dynasty-headed party, workers and supporters of the party do get worked up, but then, the spokespersons distance the organisation from such goons. Not so when the party is the Shiv Sena. Thackeray’s party would brazen it out.
There is certainly a history to this nature of the party. Surfacing as a self-arrogated representative of the Marathi manoos against whom they referred to as, with racist slurs, ‘Madrasi‘, ‘Gujju‘ and finally ‘bhaiya‘, Balasaheb Thackeray’s organisation stood out also for utmost political incorrectness time and again. The founder sometimes spoke of fighting a Muslim gangster-cum-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim with a Hindu thug Arun Gawli and, at another time, hypothetically bragged about demolishing the Babri Masjid. “My boys didn’t do it, but I would have been proud if they had,” Thackeray Sr had famously said. Somewhere down the line, Maharashtrians in general and Mumbaikars in particular came to terms with the fact that their official systems were dysfunctional or had collapsed and, therefore, fighting crooks with crooks was the way the state would ensure its checks and balances. Police could play the second fiddle, for all they cared!
If successive governments in New Delhi watched from a distance, amused or otherwise, the general conduct of the Shiv Sena brings to focus also the toothless nature of the ECI, which cannot often ensure that contestants in a poll adhere to the model code of conduct. When no election is around, the commission seems to hibernate callously. Out of the 2,698 registered political parties in the country, none is ever summoned to explain why it could not honour the words it had pledged to while submitting its documents for registration. No wonder, for examples such as the Shiv Sena, India is at times pejoratively referred to as a “functional anarchy” rather than a democracy in the global community. Once John Kenneth Galbraith, the US ambassador to India in John F Kennedy’s era, coined the term, it stuck, catching the fancy of political commentators because the reference made eminent sense. But this is a sad commentary on Indian governance as a whole and cannot be allowed to persist and fester like a gangrenous wound. The Shiv Sena must be disciplined by the judiciary if the ECI cannot do it.