After the Shiv Sena was formed in 1966, it took 23 years for the party to be allotted its now iconic bow and arrow symbol. Now, 33 years later, that symbol is lost to the party, its use barred until the two rival factions of the party sort themselves out.
But the Andheri East assembly bypoll is scheduled to take place on November 3. How will this change in symbol affect the party’s prospects?
The two factions are headed by Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde. In June, Shinde and a group of rebel MLAs went rogue and turned against Thackeray’s leadership. The BJP stepped in, Thackeray resigned as chief minister, and Shinde was sworn in instead. Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena cleaved into two.
On Tuesday, the Election Commission barred both factions from using the party’s name and election symbol in the upcoming bypoll. Instead, both factions have been recognised as separate political parties – Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and Shinde’s Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena – and allotted their own symbols. Thackeray got a mashaal, or burning torch, and Shinde a talwar and dhal, or sword and shield.
Uddhav’s faction is contesting in the upcoming bypoll. Shinde’s is not; it’s the BJP candidate instead.
But history repeats itself. At various points of time, the Shiv Sena has contested polls using the torch or the sword and shield – and won. It was only allotted the bow and arrow in 1989, after it was recognised as a regional party. It was also only after an independent candidate, Ashokrao Deshmukh, contesting from Parbhani under this symbol won a Lok Sabha seat and subsequently joined the then symbol-less Sena. The Election Commission gave his new party the symbol.
Until then, as party cofounder Madhav Deshpande told Newslaundry, “candidates used to fight on various symbols”. In fact, the party’s first MLA, Waman Rao Mahadik, won the 1970 Parel bypoll on a rising sun symbol.
Interestingly, Deshpande grew into an outspoken critic of his party and Bal Thackeray. He even wrote to the EC and petitioned the Bombay High Court in 1997 to freeze the Shiv Sena’s bow and arrow symbol, claiming Bal Thackeray was a “dictator” and that the party was functioning in an “illegal” manner. The court rejected his plea.
Deshpande now laments: “If what the EC did today it had done 30 years before, then the party would have mended itself and been democratic by now.”
Journalist Vijay Samant told Newslaundry the party has successfully fought elections on different symbols. “In 1985’s Vidhan Sabha election, Chagan Bhujbal was the lone Shiv Sena candidate who won the election in Maharashtra on the burning torch symbol,” he said. “In the same year, Sena candidates fought the civic election on the sword and shield, and won massively.”
Since 1968, he added, the Sena’s symbols have included a railway engine and cup and saucer too. “The burning torch symbol [for Uddhav] will bring them luck,” Samant said. “We can’t say about the other districts, but the Uddhav faction has solid support in Mumbai. The change in symbol will not affect the Uddhav faction because their cadres are with them.”
Political analyst Parimal Maya Sudhakar also doesn’t think the change in symbol will “bring harm” to Uddhav’s prospects in the bypoll.
“Voters are conscious of such things. This is in particular an urban constituency,” he said of Andheri East. “If voters were going to vote for Shiv Sena, they would do it anyway. Sharad Pawar has contested on at least three symbols so far. Each time, his group’s strength remained more or less the same. Similarly, a change in symbol did not make things different for the JDU and RJD...It seems the Uddhav faction may win this election because the cadre in Mumbai are with them. And with the support of Congress and NCP, they will secure the votes of minorities.”
In the future, what matters is the EC’s “final decision”, Sudhakar added, on which faction will eventually get the bow and arrow.
“As of now, the Uddhav faction is fine because the bow and arrow has not been given to Shinde,” he explained. “The Shinde group is not contesting the election, they are just supporting the BJP. But if in future the Shinde group gets the bow and arrow symbol, then their claim of legitimacy is proved. It will be a big blow to the Uddhav faction.”
Harish Kerzakar, a political analyst in Mumbai, agreed, saying social media has ensured that voters are aware about the change in symbol.
“This is an urban constituency, people are more aware in comparison with rural areas,” he said. “Maybe not in other parts of the states, but in Mumbai, Uddhav’s faction is definitely getting sympathy because Shiv Sena lost its original symbol because of the conflict between the two factions. People who were not bothered about Uddhav’s ouster from power are now sympathising with him. These factors will help his faction in the upcoming bypoll.”
This is corroborated by Raju Mane, who heads a Shiv Sena shakha in Andheri East’s Marol. “The removal of bow and arrow has triggered sympathy towards the party,” Mane said. “The new election symbol [torch] has already been popularised by the media and we are doing door-to-door campaigns, so it’s not going to affect the voter. Secondly, Shinde sahab does not have any hold in the Andheri area and his support to the BJP will not make a difference.”
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.