How a media project to ‘secularize’ the Shiv Sena was on in full swing

Whether you are “communal” or “secular” should ideally depend upon what views you hold and whether your actions and speeches tally with those. However, in India, it is dependent on your equations with the BJP. It’s not about ideology, but it’s about electoral politics – plain and simple.

Shiv Sena was “communal” as it has been in over 20-years-old alliance with the BJP. But the alliance broke before the assembly elections of 2014 (only to re-appear as post-poll alliance) and again before the municipal polls of Maharashtra in 2017. Thumb rule meant that Shiv Sena had to be deemed “secular” thereafter.

And the project to “secularize” Shiv Sena was on in full swing (as we will see in this article), but alas, the target of secularism fell short by 30 odd seats in the BMC elections.

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Now let’s rewind to the time when these results were not known, and let’s look at what the Indian mainstream media was telling its readers:

A couple of days before Mumbai voted in the BMC elections, an article about the “resurgent Sena” appeared in The Indian Express. For a while now, the mainstream media has made a habit of adding the term “resurgent” before the name of any party or political leader left licking wounds after the NaMo tsunami of 2014. It is possibly an automatic feature that has been incorporated into the word processing software used by media houses to accommodate their wishful thinking.

Nonetheless, coming back to the article, it talked about lesser known aspects of Uddhav Thackeray, who currently leads the Sena. From talking about Uddhav donating proceeds from his photography exhibitions to describing his new found sense of matrutva (exact words) towards his humble party workers, the article had it all:

The Indian Express article on Uddhav Thackeray and Shiv Sena

Not to mention that the use of the phrase “coming of age” suggests  the possibility that this article was churned out from a draft circulated by media houses for a different dynast. Was it? Just kidding…

Coming of age: Uddhav was all set to “mature” as a “secular” leader?

The Indian Express article can hardly be seen in isolation. The same media sentiment surrounding Uddhav Thackeray is also amply visible in this Hindustan Times article published on the day Mumbai voted:

Uddhav was supposed to have done something even Bal Thackeray could not achieve.

More admiration for Uddhav “overcoming the barrier” and “succeeding with second generation leaders”. And that one comes directly from the desk of Sujata Anandan, who has been the political editor of the Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times. A few months ago, Ms. Anandan wrote much similarly about another naturally mild mannered dynast who has been getting smartly aggressive.

From Rahul Gandhi to Uddhav Thackeray

We are not sure whether to laugh or to cry at these efforts. Of course, when the first few results of the BMC started rolling out on Feb 23 and it seemed for a while that the Sena would end up with a huge win, the same theme appeared in this now much mocked tweet of “journalist” Barkha Dutt.

Not so reluctant to openly support any one against BJP?

Soft spoken, passionate about photography… we have all the essentials here. As I said, we are not sure whether to laugh or to cry at these efforts.

It is not hard to imagine what would have happened if the Shiv Sena had managed a big win in Mumbai. The Sena almost certainly would have gone through a process of “secularization” in the elite media. In fact, mild mannered photography lover Uddhav Thackeray appeared to be well prepared for this prospect when he stepped out in the media glare yesterday for what had been planned as his coming of age party:

Almost on the cue, just what the media ordered.

As we can see, evolution by means of natural selection is a slow process, but in desperate times, there are ways to speed it up significantly. Someone posted this photo on twitter of Uddhav from not so long ago:

Oops.. but the media can make you forget what they don’t want you to remember.

Meanwhile, as the mainstream media puts the onus of Indian secularism on the shoulders of the Shiv Sena, we can only assume that the “idea of India” shall remain on ventilator support.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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