Saffron flags, wall hanging of a roaring tiger face with ‘Jai Maharashtra’ inscribed below and other such popular Shiv Sena symbols are conspicuous with their absence at the 300 sq feet Sawant residence in the S.K.Patil Chawls in Andheri west.
The dwelling can be passed off as one of Mumbai’s innumerable such matchbox houses, but for the small photo frame tucked away safely in a burrow shelf on the wall. The photo is of a beaming Prashant Sawant sitting next to Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. The 29-year-old has been working with the Yuva Sena (Sena’s youth wing) since the past four years and calls it one of his prized possessions.
The Sawant family is one amongst the many Sainik families that have been associated with the Sena over three generations. While they lament that many problems faced by the Marathi manoos in Mumbai persist even 56 years after the Sena was born, they staunchly believe that without the Sena, Mumbai would have “gone to the dogs.” Prashant’s mother Pradnya, an active member of the party’s women’s wing and the shaakha pramukh of ward 62 in Andheri since two years, said, “The reason why most people feel safe in Mumbai today is because of Sena. Some say that Sena is a party of goons but that is a misconception.”
Even as there is a somber feeling and concern in their hearts for the Sena chief’s failing health, the family is sure that the Sena legacy will live on even after his death. Prashant’s maternal grandfather Mukund Walawalkar, who was inducted in the party during the same year as it was formed said, “Balasaheb nehmi mhantat ki Sena fakt aapla karmane vaadhel. Saheb sadaiv aamcha barobar rahnaar” (Balasaheb always said that the Sena will grow based solely on its deeds. He will always be with us).
Walawalkar was a young newspaper vendor in Goregaon during the early sixties when he became a regular reader of Marmik. “I was impressed by the way in which Balasaheb gave a voice to Hindus and Marathi people. I was confident that only Balasaheb can make Marathi people feel safe and give us our rights in a city that had no reservations for us in any sector. One day in 1966, I read a large hoarding outside the Goregaon station inviting people to attend Balasaheb’s public address. I met him face-to-face for the first time during that sabha. His