DC Edit | Sena split has lessons for regional parties
Regional parties, like human cells, tend to divide. Or like corporate firms, undergo mergers, hostile takeovers, or after facing continued losses, decline, fade away, or die. Some, like a family business, get split and divided, and each unit creates its own destiny and path. The specific reasons which trigger such mutations and changes may vary, but broad root causes and principles have strong similarities.
Most regional parties are based on identity drawing on regional history or language, and the ideology is often shaped by the dominant political needs of the time that it was founded. Equally significantly, the founder’s image and style are imprinted on most regional parties, and the tricky question is often about inheritance.
The first regional party, and a template for most others, has been the Dravidar Kazhagam, from which were born the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its rival, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). In each generation, it was led by a larger-than-life icon, often smoothly segueing from movie to politics. Yet, the demise of each icon led to a vacuum, a power struggle and a new leadership arose in due time.
In Andhra Pradesh, N.T. Rama Rao, who has some similarities with the Tamil icon and leader, M.G. Ramachandran, was deposed from power from the party he formed and led to electoral wins by his own son-in-law and other family members.
In Shiv Sena, there was no question of revolt during the reign and lifetime of its founder, Balasaheb Thackeray. His nephew, Raj Thackeray, who was not happy with the rise of the son of the boss, Uddhav Thackeray, left it long ago, and formed his own party, the MNS.
The Janata Dal, up north, once the grand experiment of 1989 failed, exploded and dissolved into many splinter groups, each led by a strongman in different states, and became a regional party of sorts. The JD became the SP, RJD, JD(U) (earlier Samata Party), JD(S), BJD, among others, and each carved a niche for itself in its respective place.
There are many lessons from the split and reorganisation of the Shiv Sena, and likely legal battles ahead. The party was split with a non-family member successfully taking over the legislative unit, and through it, power in the state, from a family member.
The Election Commission decided on the symbol row, handing it to the group called the Eknath Shinde faction so far, after hearing the contentions of both sides, in a fairly quick time. The Supreme Court will hear the matter and adjudicate, but it is tricky. The unsaid rule in regional parties is that the first family owns and runs the party, and government.
But in a changed political era, where family rule is rampant but not attractive in popular narrative, a group of leaders from outside the family lay a siege. They laid claim to the original ideology after Uddhav Thackeray totally turned the party’s orientation and outlook, disowning an ally of several decades and joining a secular front despite being, in essence, a Hindutva party. The eventual endorsement to either side will be given by the people in the next elections.