A cornered sena
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But the bigger challenge for the Shiv Sena would be in handling the inheritance Bal Thackeray has left behind. This inheritance consists of a pro-Marathi agenda (in cultural terms as well as in terms of employment demands) and the politics of demagogy. At the moment, the MNS appears to be more adept at both. To be sure, the Shiv Sena had experimented with the mix of regional pride and Hindu nationalism long before Narendra Modi. But brand Shiv Sena has always been identified with regional pride. The party will now have to redefine that identity, partly because the MNS has practically taken over that agenda and partly because it now realises the need for a broader agenda to retain its hold beyond Mumbai and Thane. But can there be a Shiv Sena without demagogy? The Sena's rise in the nineties owed a great deal to Bal Thackeray's ability to reshape Maharashtra's political culture and public reason. This feat appears beyond the ability of the Shiv Sena now. But a party nourished on sumptuous doses of demagogy could find it very tiresome to settle down to "politics as usual"— all the more so when the rival MNS thrives on that very demagogy. So, ironically, two of Bal Thackeray's most crucial inheritances can prove to be stumbling blocks for the new Shiv Sena after him.
But the real challenge lies in the party's self-image. For too long, the Shiv Sena has operated in the space between a party and a vigilante movement. It has always been infatuated with its image as an organisation that can turn on adversaries. Such organisations find it very difficult to change their image, because hidden in that change is the possibility of losing face. Will the Shiv Sena revert to that self-image and rely on street action or will it make the transition to a regular political party? One thing is certain: it will be difficult for the Shiv Sena to continue to be both a vigilante movement and a political party. Yet it seems the current leadership wants to ride a vigilante psyche while running a routine party. That is where the Shiv Sena will face its greatest challenge.
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