A torrential rain swept through Thane, a remote suburb of Mumbai, on the night of June 30 as the monsoon finally made its appearance. Regardless, the streets were lit up with celebration. Firecrackers and rockets exploded. People were playing music and dancing on the road. “I hit the drum so hard that it tore,” enthused Sanjay Dalvi, a rickshaw driver. At 7.30 p.m. that evening, Eknath Shinde, who represents part of Thane in the state assembly and who had himself driven a rickshaw for a living, was sworn in as minister in leader of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.
Mr Shinde’s rise capped ten days of political unrest in India’s wealthiest and second most populous state. A longtime member of the Shiv Sena, Maharashtra’s dominant political force for decades, Mr. Shinde parted ways with some 40 lawmakers and linked up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), who leads the national government. “It’s a great surprise,” said Sanjay Jha, a former spokesman for the Congress party, which until last week helped lead the state in a grand coalition with the Shiv Sena and a third party. . No one expected the Sena, as it is often called, to crack.
Long before the bjp fired on the way to muscular Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, the Shiv Sena had established itself as a staunch defender of Hindus in general and natives of Maharashtrian in particular. Under its incendiary founder, Balasaheb Thackeray, it has earned a reputation as an abuser of migrant workers in Mumbai. Its members were also involved in bloody anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai in the early 1990s.
However, in recent years, the Sena had softened. Uddhav Thackeray, son of Balasaheb and former chief minister of Maharashtra, had built a reputation for skill and good administration. The state had remained largely shielded from the religious clashes common in bjp-Governed States. Although covid-19 has hit Mumbai as hard as any other Indian city, the health system has managed to avoid the heartbreaking scenes of people dying outside hospitals seen in Delhi, the capital and the north. This won Uddhav new admirers, even among liberal types who once hated his party.
It also earned him the hatred of bjp. The parties were natural allies and had indeed fought elections together since 1989. But they quarreled after the last ballot, in 2019, over who should get the job of chief minister. The bjp has been trying to bring down the state government ever since. He repeatedly accused the Sena of forgetting his Hindutva antecedents. Uddhav, for his part, emphasized governance rather than incitement to hatred: “Our Hindutva is not to burn houses, but to light stoves in houses,” he said at a rally in May.
Trouble began on June 21, when Mr. Shinde took 11 lawmakers to a hotel in Surat, a business hub in the bjp– Ruled state of Gujarat. By noon, the number of rebels had risen to 25. Two days later, he put them on a plane and locked them in a hotel in Guwahati in Assam, another bjp– ruled state (see map). They were then 40.
There he told them he had the support of “a national party that shook Pakistan”, a reference to the bjp. Then they moved to another five-star hotel in bjp-ruled Goa. Having lost the support of the majority of his lawmakers, Uddhav resigned on June 29. Mr Shinde later credited Devendra Fadnavis, a former bjp Maharashtra’s Chief Minister (who is now Mr. Shinde’s deputy), for orchestrating the whole thing. Such shenanigans are common enough to have a name: “resort politics.”
Opposition parties across the country will be concerned about the bjpability to divide the Sena, a usually disciplined group. The bjp, for his part, rejoiced in his victory by vowing to reclaim other states that seem beyond his reach, such as Tamil Nadu in the south and West Bengal in the east. A test of his popularity in Maharashtra will come later this year when Mumbai holds municipal elections. The Sena dominates the city, but the split risks costing it dearly.
For the citizens of Maharashtra, the immediate concern is that the bjpThe politics of division, and the violence and disharmony that comes with it, will disrupt life in the state. The Mumbaikars in particular tend to favor business over politics and ideology. Yet they, too, may soon find themselves subject to the same forces that govern much of the rest of the country. ■