What if the brahmins of Mylapore and Triplicane suddenly start a party that goes around terrorizing Telugus, Malayalis and north Indian labourers of Chennai? And an iyer or iyengar, for that matter, who has been working in a newspaper puts together a group of rowdies that beats up communist unionists and cries hoarse upholding Tamil pride and identity? Then finds a way to support an income for the underclass supporting the Tamil party, then captures Chennai Corporation and turns on Muslims. Its party newspapers spew venom and the iyer vituperates against Muslims inciting hatred and riots.

This happened in Maharashtra. The party is Shiv Sena and the iyer leader was Bal Thackeray.

Maharashtra brahmins are quite unlike Tamil brahmins though. They founded an organization that has turned India on its head, the RSS. They have a history of involving themselves in a wide range of professions from insidious espionage through seafaring trading to being kings and queens. They may be Sanskrit scholars but are equally proficient Marathi scholars. In one of the deftest political maneuvers in history they turned an essentially Marathi-Maratha kingdom founded by Shivaji into a brahmin dominated one, coopting Marathi pride and identity in the process.

The Shiv Sena had come to represent the Marathas – that vast population that swings Hindu in the tradition of Shivaji. But its iyer leader died, taking with him the fire and brimstone

Shivaji was a Maratha. The Marathas are the heart and soul of Maharashtra. They are the Shindes, Dighes, Pageys, Gaikwads and Sawants that one often comes across. They are neither poor and marginalized nor are they the elites. They are somewhere in between and don’t consider themselves OBCs in today’s India either. To them, Maharashtra belongs rightfully – the rest are interlopers – or at least that is what they believe.

Shivaji’s kingdom was itself an eruption against Brahmins in many ways – a point elaborated by Annadurai in his play, Sivaji Kanda Hindu Rajyam, but one that’s largely missed today. Soon enough the kingdom came under the control of brahmin Peshwas though the descendants of Shivaji continue to thrive till today including in politics.

Modi campaigns in Maharashtra exhorting Marathis to vote out the Congress that is supporting the DMK. He says the DMK wants Tamil Nadu to secede from India – the Tamil Nadu that provided the southern boundary of Shivaji’s Hindu empire. Shivaji had apparently said during his coronation that his land stretched from Thanjavur to Peshawar.

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The Shiv Sena had come to represent the Marathas – that vast population that swings Hindu in the tradition of Shivaji. But its iyer leader died, taking with him the fire and brimstone.

His son seemed unequal to his father, in street fighting as well as political maneuvering. And the BJP thought he was easy picking. Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray soon realized that Hindutva apart, the BJP was actually hostile to the Sena in the long term. The inroads it made into the Maratha vote in 2019 told Uddhav that the BJP was cannibalizing the Shiv Sena within a seemingly natural alliance.

Uddhav had always been in the shadows of his father. He didn’t vituperate as much though the bigotry would surface not rarely in his speeches but he didn’t seem fascist. During the pandemic, he earned people’s praise. Dharavi didn’t go through a holocaust, as was originally feared.

When the BJP split the Sena and the symbol bow and arrow went to the breakaway group, Uddhav seemed shattered. His health took a beating. He still looks tired and withdrawn in public but has somehow stood his ground. Here was a man who had been wronged by the BJP, many sympathized.

More than anything else, what the BJP has got going against it across India is the people’s distaste for its excesses. What got this writer’s stomach to churn in fear is that the BJP would simply engineer a delimitation exercise to vest a lot more seats with the north and ignore south altogether, ensuring that they only had to ratchet up the Hindutva every election to win.

Modi’s image of being a doer may well become his undoing. He will do too many things purely for partisan purposes.

And the BJP will not have to bother with Maharashtra too because this state, though being the strongest votary of Hindutva, offers a transition from the north to the south.

The Marathas look a little African too, just like south Indians, smiley added. One, Shivaji Rao Gaikwad, looks more African than even south Indians and the Tamils love him as their own.

When the elections started, it seemed 50-50 here for the BJP. But Uddhav is still standing, as the leader of the anti-BJP alliance. All the cuts and bruises the BJP delivered have only earned him some admiration. He refused to stop using the words, Jai Bhawani, the battlecry of Shivaji and a reference to a goddess, when the election commission objected. Yet, Uddhav talks of a Hindutva that is inclusive, not exclusive. His father threw the first stone at the Babri Masjid but Uddhav refused to go to Ram temple inauguration. He said it was a BJP event. His Shiv Sena (UBT)’s campaign is against BJP’s performance and promises development.

Onions and sugar can turn elections here. The export ban on onions has earned the BJP government much farm anger.

In one of the strangest consequences of politician driven business ventures, Maharashtra has taken to sugarcane in many parts where there is water scarcity. Politicians, well just Sharad Pawar and his kin, control the machine politics of sugarcane.

When the elections started, it seemed 50-50 here for the BJP. But Uddhav is still standing, as the leader of the anti-BJP alliance. All the cuts and bruises the BJP delivered have only earned him some admiration

Sugarcane has made farmers prosperous. It’s made Sharad Pawar even more prosperous. He and his kin control the sugarcane procurement, the mills and the cooperative banks.

Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule recently remarked that the center has a hold on Ajit Pawar because of the cases against him, which is why he switched. Recently, Ajit and his wife, the Baramati candidate for his faction, were given a clean chit by the police in a classic sugar cooperative fraud case.

Ajit Pawar’s co-accused in the above was Rohit Pawar who has stayed on with Sharad Pawar. The two factions of the NCP – one aligned with sahib Sharadchandra and the other with his nephew, Ajit – are intertwined in the sugar business.

If Ajit was exonerated by state police, so was Rohit Pawar who is with his grand uncle. It won’t be far-fetched to imagine Ajit Pawar is Sharad’s man in the NDA while he is in MVA. Heads he wins, tails he seemingly loses but eventually wins. That’s Sharad Pawar who has said Modi wanted him to join him after 2014 elections. Perhaps, just perhaps, his Congress secularism made him decide against. On such hopeful premises, the anti-Modi alliance is built.

Also Read: Paraiyar Regiment: When Tamil Dalits were the British Queen’s own

The agitation demanding quota for Marathas suddenly gained traction last year. An obscure activist shot into the limelight because of police action against him. The government promised it to end his agitation but the quota move has stalled. The MVA is hoping Marathas will vote against the BJP alliance for not delivering.

The Muslims are backing Balasaheb’s son, says a senior Muslim journalist in Mumbai. “For now, that’s the truth. When elections are over and if the BJP falls short, the Muslims hope Uddhav doesn’t switch back to the BJP,” he adds.

Muslims and Dalits had voted against the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance for Prakash Ambedkar and Owaisi in 2019, not to the Congress. Because those two seemed to be the ones taking on the BJP. The Congress looked down, if not out.

This election, the VBA is in between. Owaisi has become a has-been. A senior Muslim journalist in Mumbai told this writer Muslims now think Owaisi is playing the BJP’s game. “How come he and his brother who made some really nasty remarks have not been jailed or harassed?” he asks.

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