Shiv Sena

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Shiv Sena

LEADER: Bal Thackeray


ESTIMATED SIZE: Several hundred



Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji, an ancient fighter belonging to the region of Maharashtra, India) was allegedly formed in 1966 by Bal Thackeray, in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), India. Ever since, Shiv Sena has been actively promoting its ideology in Maharashtra and other states in India. The members and followers are allegedly considered to be staunch Hindu extremists.

Experts consider Shiv Sena to be extremely conservative and anti-Muslim. Bal Thackeray is often referred as a controversial and militant leader. The party is active on the political front and reportedly has a huge presence and following in Mumbai. The employment faction of Shiv Sena is known as Shiv Udyog Sena. Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (Indian Worker's Army), a labor union supporting mostly lower-income worker class communities, is allegedly affiliated to the Shiv Sena. The youth wing of Shiv Sena is known as the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (All India Students' Army).


Shiv Sena was formed in June 1966 by Bal Thackeray, allegedly to protect the interest of the native youths in Maharashtra. According to reports, Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra, was getting crowded, especially because of ethnic immigrants moving into the city. The primary focus of the Shiv Sena was allegedly to motivate the Marathi (native of Maharashtra) youths to drive out non-Marathis from their city and state. This campaign was especially targeted towards the South Indians, Gujaratis (natives to the western Indian state of Gujarat), and Muslims from Mumbai.

Soon after it was formed, the organization ventured into politics and began their drive to reform the city. Several of Shiv Sena members held prominent positions in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Shiv Sena allied with the Bhartiya Janta Party, a national party that, as of 2005, has been part of the central government of India a few times and featured prominently in the State Assembly polls, which are held to elect the state government.

Shiv Sena was in favor of establishing the Hindu Temple at the controversial Babri Mosque site in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Members of Shiv Sena and other Hindu fundamentalist groups claim that the mosque was made at the birth site of Lord Ram, a revered Hindu god. In 1989, the foundation stone for the temple was laid, which caused anti-Hindu riots even in neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan. The party followed the proceedings of the controversy carefully and propagated Hindutva (Hindu fundamentalism) throughout the state of Maharashtra, allegedly with the support of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association).

Over the years, the party has allegedly developed into a Hindu fundamentalist party with staunch anti-Muslim beliefs. On December 6, 1992, the Babri Mosque was demolished allegedly by Hindutva-driven volunteers. This led to a series of riots across the country, especially in Mumbai where the riots lasted for two months. More than 800 people reportedly died in Mumbai alone. Several human rights groups claim that the anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai were incited by Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena party. In February 1998, Justice B.N. Srikrishna (a former judge of the Supreme Court of India) submitted a report that investigated the communal riots in Mumbai to the state government of Maharashtra. The report implicated the hand of Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sainiks (the members of Shiv Sena) in intensifying the riots. In retaliation, Shiv Sena claimed that the report was biased and that they had no agenda in the Mumbai riots.

According to media reports, there were several campaigns carried out by the opposition parties and human rights groups supporting the prosecution of the offenders. The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena party allegedly refused to accept the recommendation of the report and labeled the report "anti-Hindu."

That said, in the 1990s, political experts also attribute a number of economic growth-oriented developments to the Shiv Sena. During the reign of the BJP-Shiv Sena state government (in Maharashtra), there were several reforms made by the party. This included completion of the Mumbai-Pune expressway that bridged the gap between the two most prominent cities of Maharashtra, construction of several flyovers in Mumbai to ease the traffic congestion problems in the city, improved water and irrigation supply in several urban and rural areas of Maharashtra, as well as providing a safe haven for the elderly.

The coalition, however, did not win the 2004 state elections and, as of 2005, is the opposition party in the state.



Shiv Sena was founded and presided over for a long time by Bal Thackeray, also known as Balasaheb Thackeray. As of 2005, his son, Uddhav Thackeray, is the working president of the party. However, Bal Thackeray is considered by most to be the supreme leader of the organization.

Bal Thackeray, born on January 23, 1927, started his career as a cartoonist for a newspaper during the 1950s. He later started his own weekly where his sarcastic cartoons were allegedly aimed to awaken the Marathi youths of Maharashtra. He subsequently formed Shiv Sena, an organization that claims to have a mission of protecting the rights of the natives of Maharashtra. The party, under Thackeray, opposed the infiltration of the state of Maharashtra by South Indians and Gujaratis. Thackeray himself never ran in any election, but allegedly influenced the political situation in Maharashtra greatly by supporting the pro-Hindu political party BJP.

Bal Thackeray claims to be a conservative nationalist believing in Hindu fundamentalism. He and his party have allegedly attacked civil liberties of individuals, especially minorities. Some of the activities opposed by his party are Valentine Day celebrations, movies with radical subjects, cricket matches involving Pakistani players, and more.


Shiv Sena is a right-wing political party with staunch Hindu fundamentalist beliefs. Soon after the formation of the party, its members allegedly fought for the rights of Marathi youths of Maharashtra by campaigning extensively against immigrants from other areas of India. The party reportedly gave an ultimatum to South Indians working in Mumbai to move out of the city or face the consequences. The same stance was then applied against Gujaratis and Muslims. In their bid to drive away immigrants, the party allegedly ran several violent campaigns to terrorize non-Marathi individuals. There were also reports of attacks by Shiv Sena members on trade unions that supported the rights of non-Marathis.

However, during the 1970s, the party shifted its focus to Hindu fundamentalism. According to the Census Bureau of India, about 80% of the population of India follows Hinduism (since the early 1970s). Political experts claim that several political parties and religious organizations, including Shiv Sena, support Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). In May 1970, Hindu-Muslim riots erupted in the Bhiwandi-Jalgaon area of Maharashtra that reportedly claimed the lives of more than 250 people. Several monitor groups indicate that Shiv Sena played a major role in intensifying the riots as part of their strategy to promote Hindu fundamentalism.

Later in 1984, Shiv Sena reportedly organized a Hindu congregation rally in Mumbai in which Bal Thackeray made derogatory remarks about Islam, subsequently provoking the Muslims. Media reports have claimed time and again that Shiv Sena receives unabashed support from specific members of the local law authorities that let the party carry out its operations. In 1989, Shiv Sena started publishing a Marathi daily, Saamna (Confrontation), that acted as a mouthpiece of the party and featured provocative pro-Hindu editorials by Bal Thackeray. Experts claim that the party also started a student cell and a worker's union cell to expand its influence.

The December 1992 Babri Mosque demolition in Ayodhya was applauded by Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. His heated speeches reportedly played a major role in provoking the communal riots in Mumbai that claimed the lives of more than 800 people. An inquiry into the 1992–1993 riots in Mumbai pinpointed the involvement of Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray, and the then-Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi, thought by many to be an avid Shiv Sena supporter. The report stated that Shiv Sena deliberately and systematically planned the riots and the subsequent chaos in the city. The then-ruling BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government in the state of Maharashtra disregarded the inquiry report by calling it biased.

Apart from various Hindu fundamentalist activities, the Shiv Sena also continued its campaign against immigrants. In 1995, the Maharashtra state government that was led by the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition proposed renaming the city of Bombay as Mumbai, as they claimed that the name Bombay was a "corruption" of the original name. In its drive against non-Marathis and Muslims, changing the official name of the city of Bombay allegedly was the next step in asserting that the Shiv Sena was firm in its resolve.


Shiv Sena displayed regional chauvinism and an anti-communism stance in Mumbai and other areas of Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena members accused to have played a prominent role in communal riots in Bhiwandi-Jalgaon areas of Maharashtra.
Mumbai-Bhiwandi riots, both between Hindus and Muslims.
After the fall of Babri Mosque, there were widespread riots at several places in India, especially in Mumbai.
The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance first formed the Maharashtra state government.
The Sri Krishna commission report submitted to the Maharashtra state government implicated the role of Shiv Sena members and especially its chief, Bal Thackeray, in the 1992–1993 riots.
Shiv Sena underwent organizational changes when Bal Thackeray's son, Uddhav, was appointed as the executive president of the party.

In 2003, the party launched Mee Mumbaikar (I belong to Mumbai) campaign, another tactic to discourage immigrants from other states to come to Mumbai. According to Shiv Sena, the campaign was targeted to instill pride among the Mumbai natives for being a part of the city of Mumbai, but skeptics think otherwise. Shiv Sena party members argue that the real Mumbaikar, or someone belonging to Mumbai, is a person who contributes towards the fortification of the city and does not take advantage of it.

Shiv Sena is accused by the authorities and media of exhibiting fanatical Hindu ideology by lashing out at minorities and carrying out violent acts against them. In spite of these allegations, the party claims that it is a nationalistic party and is not against any specific religion, caste, or creed, but only against the "traitors" of India and would go to any length to punish them. The party has allegedly resorted to demonstrations and rallies, protest marches, calling for strikes, forcing the local business to stay closed, and arrogant self-righteous attitude. Party followers and members have also reportedly lashed out against movies that display controversial themes and reacted strongly to any anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim statements made by political leaders.

Prominent members of the party are known for their inflammatory public remarks as well as articles in publications sponsored by Shiv Sena. Its members have also reportedly used economic and social issues to win the confidence of common people. Issues such as prices and tax hike, cleanliness, elder homes, traffic problems, water supply troubles, ethics and morality, Hindu causes, and several others are seemingly prominent features in Shiv Sena periodicals, billboards, speeches, and protests.


In the 1990s, the Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra was severely criticized by the media as well as human rights organizations for their alleged failure to control the 1992–1993 Mumbai riots. Prominent members of Shiv Sena were also under scrutiny for their alleged involvement in the riots. The Sri Krishna Commission report stated that, "As far as the December 1992 phase of the rioting by the Muslims is concerned, there is no material to show that it was anything other than a spontaneous reaction of leaderless and incensed Muslim mobs, which commenced as peaceful protest, but soon degenerated into riots. The Hindus must share a part of the blame in provoking the Muslims by their celebration rallies, inciting slogans and rasta roko (stop-the-traffic protests) which were all organized mostly by Shiv Sainiks (Shiv Sena members), and to a marginal extent by BJP activists."

Additionally, the report went on to say that "large-scale rioting and violence was commenced from 6th January 1993 by the Hindus brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organizations and writings in newspapers like Saamna and Navakal. It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh (leader) Bal Thackeray."

According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2004 released by the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, in 2002, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray called upon his followers to form Hindu suicide squads to combat Muslim extremists. The Maharashta government filed charges against Thackeray under the Penal Code for "causing a rift amongst two communities."


As of 2005, media reports claim that the stronghold of Shiv Sena on the Maharashtra political scene is losing its grip. The Shiv Sena-BJP coalition could not win the 2004 election, in spite of the claims and promises made by both the political parties to the people of Maharashtra. Also, political analysts speculate whether it was Bal Thackeray's charm or threatening personality that lured hundreds into being ardent followers of Shiv Sena. It is quite evident that Shiv Sena could exercise its influence, mainly over Mumbai and nearby areas and not the greater region of Maharashtra. Also, there is very little presence of Shiv Sena in the Indian parliament. Critics of Shiv Sena argue that the current face of Shiv Sena is nothing compared to what it was during the 1990s. There have been reports about conflict among prominent members of the party. The successors of Bal Thackeray's legacy allegedly lack the charisma and wisdom that made Shiv Sena hugely popular.


Web sites

BBC News, South East Asia. "Profile: Bombay's Militant Voice." 〈〉 (accessed October 4, 2005).

BBC News, South East Asia. "Shiv Sena: Profile." 〈〉 (accessed October 4, 2005). "Shiv Sena On The Threshold Of Disintegration." 〈〉 (accessed October 4, 2005).

Frontline. "A Parochial Project." 〈〉 (accessed October 4, 2005).

Human Rights Watch. "Human Rights Developments, India." 〈〉 (accessed October 4, 2005).

More From