Shiv Sena & Hindu Nationalism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/20/2007 03:43:00 AM
Imagine New York City's local government being under the control of the Ku Klux Klan. Hard as it is to imagine, that is the sort of situation they have in Mumbai, India. The largest city in India is politically dominated by a nationalist organization known as Shiv Sena. From scolding Shilpa Shetty for publicly kissing Richard Gere (actually, that may not have been such a bad idea) to haranguing lovers on Valentine's Day (which is bad for commerce), Shiv Sena has got the nationalist basics covered. Pictured here is its founder, Balasaheb Thackeray, a Hitler admirer. The New Republic offer this profile of Shiv Sena:
Savita told me her story as we sat in a quiet Thai restaurant near the ocean. As its variety of cuisines demonstrates, this cosmopolitan port city of 13 million is a diverse mélange of cultures, home to both Bollywood and the Bombay Stock Exchange. It's not the kind of place where one expects to find a violent hoard of Valentine's Day haters. But not only does such a group exist--it is the city's ruling political party. The men who attacked Savita's friend were members of Shiv Sena, a group of Marathi Hindus (Hindus from the Indian state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai) who, in elections this past February, re-secured their complete control of Mumbai's municipal government. Shiv Sena, which means "Army of Shiva" (the founder of the Maratha Empire), incites violence and unrest over what it deems improper cultural or religious events--from Valentine's Day to Richard Gere's recent public smooch of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. More ominously, it preaches contempt for foreigners, Muslims, and non-Marathi Hindus.

As Shiv Sena demonstrates, India is going through a debate over immigration and national identity very similar to our own. But, instead of hanging out by the border peering through binoculars, India's Minutemen are actually running one of the country's major states--the Indian equivalent of California. In Mumbai, Shiv Sena has even promised to end migration into the city. How did a party bent on exploiting every ethnic and religious fault line manage to gain control of the most cosmopolitan city in the world's largest multi-ethnic democracy? And what does this tell us about the United States?...

Much of Shiv Sena's success lies in the displacement of the Marathi community in central Mumbai. In the 1950s, immigrants from all over India began to pour into the city for jobs, and many native Marathis began to feel marginalized and shut out of the workforce. Into this void stepped Bal Thackeray--"the Tiger," as his supporters call him--a former political cartoonist bent on reasserting the rights of Marathis. In 1966, he founded Shiv Sena; and, by 1984, he had allied it with the BJP, the major right-wing Hindu nationalist force in India. Over the next two decades, international companies moved in and real estate prices skyrocketed, forcing Marathis into the suburbs. "After the economy began to heat up, the Marathi got dispersed and dislocated," says Kumar Ketkar, the editor of the Marathi paper Loksata ("People Power"). Thackeray capitalized on this--vocally championing the rights of native Hindus. By the mid-'90s, the "Sons of the Soil," as Shiv Sena is called, had completely taken over Mumbai's government. (Thackeray had the city, formerly the anglicized "Bombay," renamed in an "anti-imperialist" gesture in 1995.)

Thackeray's rise has not been without controversy: He is widely assumed to have been behind the 1992 Hindu-Muslim riots, in which approximately 1,200 Muslims were killed, and a variety of other attacks on non-Hindus. As for Thackeray's affection for the Führer, he told an Asian newspaper, "I am a great admirer of Hitler, and I am not ashamed to say so! ... Actually, we have too much sham-democracy in this country. What India really needs is a dictator who will rule benevolently, but with an iron hand."