The Bihar polls were ostensibly fought between the BJP and the coalition of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav. But what skipped the eye of most of analysts is the performance of smaller parties. Snubbed by the BJP’s approach, the Shiv Sena had entered the political fray in Bihar for the first time. The upholder of “Marathi asmita” and “sons of the soil” theory in Maharashtra did not win a single seat in Bihar. But in its maiden performance, it bagged 2,11,131 votes, which is 0.6% of the total vote share. It was ahead of parties like the Nationalist Congress Party and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which have traditionally fought elections in the state. And the Shiv Sena has one person to thank for this — Vinay Shukla “Sir”.
On the day of the results, the young Thackeray scion, Aditya Thackeray, took to Twitter to thank him for the “victory”. Vinay Shukla is Aditya Thackeray’s Hindi teacher of eight years. He camped in Bihar for four months and addressed difficult public meetings to introduce Shiv Sena to the Biharis. “BJP has back-stabbed us, and now we want to enter national politics with the agenda of Hindutva and nationalism,” the 39-year-old teacher who hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Bhadohi told The Sunday Guardian. On most of the seats where Sena fielded its candidate, the vote share was insignificant. Wherever the party was in the top three, it was a distant third with only peripheral votes in its kitty. It has made Shiv Sena realise that there is a long way before it reaches its goal of becoming a national party. But its total vote share, and more importantly the defeat of BJP, has boosted the confidence and morale of the party which now intends to fight the Uttar Pradesh polls in 2017. Vinay Shukla has now been given the responsibility of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. “I had not thought of joining politics. But I think politics is in the blood of every North Indian,” he smiled.
The biggest challenge for introducing Shiv Sena to Bihar was the public image of the party. Shiv Sena is perceived as an anti-North Indian, anti-Bihari party which indulged in bashing them up. “The first press conference we held there was the most difficult. Aggressive journalists pounced on us, asking us why we had come to Bihar when we were anti-Bihari. The same sentiment was seen in various chowk sabhas that we conducted. We did not hold any big rallies. People asked us why we were in Bihar if we were anti-Biharis,” he said.
It took consistent field work to let the people know that the party was there to stay. Once Sena did that, a steady stream of disgruntled candidates from BJP, RJD, JDU quickly jumped onto the Shiv Sena bandwagon.
Thackeray vs Thackeray
The first step for the Shiv Sena campaigners was to put the blame of the anti-North Indian tirade on Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. “For Biharis, all Thackerays are the same. They don’t know the difference between Manikrao Thackeray, Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray. We told them that since Uddhav Thackeray came at the helm in Maharashtra, there has been no violence by the Sena there.” The other factor Shiv Sena used in its favour was the importance of Chhath puja in Bihar. Shukla said during campaigning that it was Shiv Sena that started the Chhath pooja celebration in Mumbai on a large scale.
Sena’s strategy in Bihar
When the party decided to participate in the Bihar polls, it started working at building the organisational structure at various places. It identified its own North Indian shakhapramukhs in Mumbai. The party then exported them to Bihar. Disgruntled candidates from other parties were given tickets. Instead of spending on huge rallies, the party chose to have chowk sabhas. “Our focus was on constituencies which did not have BJP candidates. We wanted to be seen as a party which upholds Hindutva,” Shukla said. Now, the party is looking to expand its base in other North Indian States to “avenge BJP for breaking the trust and disregarding past political understanding.”