In rally upon rally over the last half-dozen years, Shiv Sena party supporters have been exhorted to intone, “Say with pride, that we are Hindu” (“Garva se kaho hum hindu hai”). In Hindi, not Marathi. This incantation as a centerpiece of Shiv Sena events would have been scarcely imaginable in the early years of Shiv Sena. Both the stress on a Hindu identity and the use of Hindi in political sloganeering are indicative of a major shift in the politics of regionalism in Western India.
This turn to Hinduism is what seemed to underly the outbreak of violence in Bombay on a scale never before witnessed in the city. In the winter of 1992–93, Bombay experienced the worst Hindu-Muslim conflagration the city has ever known. According to Human Rights Watch, over 1,000 people were killed, and tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands fled the city (1995, 26–27). It is a shift in which the once-local, nativist party in Bombay, the Shiv Sena, now finds itself the dominant political force in the state of Maharashtra, with a ready capacity to incite widespread violence, extract rents, and shape public policy and legislative initiatives (including the decision to first nullify and then renegotiate the Enron power project that recently captured global attention). This article attempts to understand the role of religious nationalism in the ascendancy of Shiv Sena.