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 speech was so powerful that I did not have to think twice before filing up a form to join the Sena. After that day I never missed a public speech by him in Mumbai for eight years,” said Walawalkar.
He then became an active party worker, holding corner sabhas in Goregaon and participating in state-wide rallies in Maad, Raigad, Konkan etc to spread word about the newly launched party. While he claims that he never harboured any desires of becoming the shaakha pramukh, in 1968 he did take up the post for a few years. “I tried my best to work for my area and its local problems. Later, Balasheb helped me bag a contract of collecting and selling scrap from the Nirlon factory during 1973-90,” he said.
Pradnya, along with her five siblings would accompany her father at sabhas, as a young adult. She was then married to Pradeep Sawant, a Sainik from Andheri and a member of the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena (trade union). “I was denied a ticket to contest corporator elections thrice in 1990, 95 and 2005 because the ward is pre-dominantly Muslim and the party wanted to field a Muslim candidate. I still kept my loyalty intact to the Sena despite being offered a ticket by the Congress in 1995. Being a Sainik is about working for the society, not about building your political career,” said Pradeep.
Pradeep was close to Raj Thackeray but decided against moving to the MNS after Raj quit Sena in 2005. “Till Balasaheb is with Sena, I will be a Sainik,” he said. One of Pradnya’s four sisters, along with her husband, however did move to the MNS and that is a cause of sadness for the family.
Pradnya became the shaakha pramukh in 2010 and has been working for issues of water-supply and sanitation in the area. “We carry out regular follow ups with the BMC about small works. Apart from that I hold career counseling sessions. We also visited the local police station asking them to beef up security due to the recent spate of attacks on senior citizens,” she said.
When asked about what distinguishes Sainiks from workers from other parties, Walawalkar says that Sainiks do not work for money. “We all have our individual professions to support our household. Politics is not our profession. We do not get any money for any party work, or campaigning for elections. Till you are elected as a corporator, there is no salary of sorts, even for shakha pramukhs. In fact we put in our own money for party activities, travelling etc,” he said. Sawants own an electrical appliance store and are also into real estate consultancy.
Talking about major defections in the party such as Narayan Rane, Jaywant Parab and Raj Thackeray, Sawants say that most supporters who left these leaders came back to Sena, sooner or later. About the two Senas coming together in the future, the family says in unison, “Raj and Uddhav should come together to avoid division of Marathi votes.” Talking about Uddhav’s mellow approach and demeanor as compared to his father and his moderate thoughts, Walawalkar said, “Uddhav’s tendency has been to involve more educated people in the party and adopt a softer stand. But these things do not affect our affiliation towards the party.”
Taking on from his parents and grandparents, Prashant was pulled into Sena activities by default. “We have handled a number of students’ issues with Aaditya saheb. The Chinai college issue and solving admissions related problems for locals are some of them,” he said.
As of now, the next big task for the family is to work towards the 2014 assembly elections. “People are fed up of the Congress rule. We are confident of winning the assembly elections this time around,” said Prashant.