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Regional Dilemma

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The Shiv Sena, as its leader Sanjay Raut has pointed out, was formed before even the BJP, its ‘senior’ partner in the Maharashtra troubled coalition. However, it has not been able to spread beyond the borders of the state through the years because its political appeal is restricted to the Marathas, particularly those in Mumbai who feel ‘threatened’ by all kinds of outsiders. Under Bal Thackeray, it had perfected the art of intimidation without descending to the level of being identified as a terror organisation. It served a useful purpose, however, in determinedly protecting local turf against violence inflicted by religious and criminal gangs. It continues to function on the basis of people’s gratitude for this ‘service’. This localised history has, however, limited its ideological appeal and it needs to collaborate with the BJP to have any say on the larger political scenario, be it at the state or the national level. While the ideology and modus operandi may differ, other ‘regional’ parties face similar existential problems in the rapidly ‘unifying’ culture of India, caused by the expansion of media and the internet’s many services. Shining examples of regional identity such as the TDP, BSP, SP, Trinamool Congress, etc., are gasping for breath, despite their past successes. Even the new outfits that have come up in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana depend largely on the popularity of the leaders, rather than any particular USP they have on offer. It remains to be seen if the ‘successful’ BJD will outlast Naveen Patnaik. Part of the problem is their inability to strongly hitch their stars to national parties, something that the ‘Dravidian’ parties have done more successfully. Even while dividing Tamil Nadu between them, they have often played a crucial role in deciding political rivalries at the Centre. This helps them survive the bad times. There is obviously a lesson in this for the others. Even in Uttarakhand, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal had the opportunity to piggyback on the larger parties when its legislators provided support in government formation. Unfortunately, its ideology was quickly jettisoned as the leaders sought to further their personal careers, instead. As a result, it lost relevance for the voters. In all these cases, the hunger for power (and the lucre that goes with it) overcame ideology, and that was their undoing. The Shiv Sena’s present tactics in Maharashtra raise the question: Is its hunger for power leading it to abandon its raison d’être? Its leaders must do some careful thinking on this before they are rendered irrelevant in the not so distant future.