MUMBAI: Having weathered many political storms since it was founded by Bal Thackeray to take up the cause of "regional identity" in 1966, Shiv Sena faces the challenge of positioning itself as "numero uno" in Maharashtra again as it turn 50 tomorrow.
"At present because of peculiar circumstances, Shiv Sena is playing second fiddle," Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who is also the executive editor of party mouthpiece 'Saamana', said in an apparent reference to former ally BJP upstaging it as the dominant partner.
"Shiv Sena has accepted the challenge to become numero uno again," he says as the party prepares for a year-long Golden jubilee celebrations.
The party was founded on June 19, 1966 in Mumbai.
The 2017 Mumbai municipal elections will be a litmus test of the BJP-Sena alliance where a resurgent BJP is likely to assert itself in the seat sharing talks with Shiv Sena that has been ruling Asia's richest civic body for more than two decades.
The saffron alliance had split ahead of the 2014 state Assembly polls only to reunite to form the BJP-led government.
"Bal Thackeray is the pioneer of regional identity politics in the country. It was Balasaheb who understood the need of regional identity politics 50 years ago and it is in the last two decades that the country's politics is driven by regional aspirations and identity," Raut told PTI.
He said Shiv Sena was on the threshold of achieving a milestone as it prepares to celebrate 50 years of existence.
"The party's journey has been full of challenges and struggle. It was Bal Thackeray who saw opportunity in every challenge he came across. It was said regional identity politics was not in the interest of unity of the country. No one took the party seriously when it was formed 50 years ago.
"Everyone said the outfit would be wound up in few months. Critics also said the party will not grow beyond Mumbai and Thane. But, Shiv Sena spread its wings across the state and also came to power," he said.
Balasaheb gave importance to building organisational structure of the party rather than focusing on achieving power, Raut said.
"Balasaheb never surrendered to any situation but took challenges head on. It is because of this reason that whoever is in power in the state, Sena called the shots because of its organisational power. Besides, Balasaheb knew the pulse of the people and conducted his politics accordingly," he said.
On Shiv Sena's journey in the state politics, analysts say the issues of 'Marathi identity' and "discrimination" against Maharashtrians in Mumbai on which Shiv Sena was formed 50 years ago continues to resonate in the country's financial capital even today.
"Last year's assembly elections saw Shiv Sena register its best performance, winning 63 seats by contesting independently. Similarly, the party won 18 seats in the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with BJP. The sense of insecurity among the lower middle class Maharashtrians and the identity
crisis in the fast urbanised cities of the state persists and citizens feel only Shiv Sena can take up their cause," a political observer said.
"Despite the absence of late Bal Thackeray, the party will thrive on the aspirations of the Marathi-speaking population in the fast paced urbanisation and Mumbai makeover," he said.
He was of the view that the national parties will have a national outlook to issues and regional aspirations take a backseat. "It is where Shiv Sena fills the void," he says.
Sujata Anandan, who authored the book "Samrat" on how Shiv Sena changed the character of Mumbai, feels the party's surge was from the lower rungs of the society.
"The party needs to rise above that and evolve into a party of achievers. It should keep its regional flavour but also look at the global aspirations of the youth. It needs to equip its cadre and supporters to be parallel with the rest of the world in this globalised scenario," she said.
Anandan describes Shiv Sena as the 'most successful parochial regional party' which took 30 years to come to power.
"It was not a political outfit to begin with. Shiv Sena was just an organisation protecting the interests of Marathi-speaking people and acting as stooges of the ruling Congress against communists in Mumbai," she said.
She said Shiv Sena's success was in the first decade of its existence where it ensured housing and jobs for lower end of the society.
"A government resolution (GR) on 85 per cent jobs in government and private sector in the state going to locals was after strong persuasion from the Shiv Sena," she said.
However, the party has achieved little after the first decade, she felt.
"Shiv Sena forayed outside Mumbai after adopting the Hindu Nationalist agenda by winning the Aurangabad municipal corporation, which it continues to rule even today," she said.
Anandan said Shiv Sena evolved as a serious political party only after its alliance with BJP in 1989.
"Late Pramod Mahajan saw potential in the alliance as the 12-13 per cent saffron vote should not divide and Bal Thackeray realised that Shiv Sena needs to grow outside Mumbai as well and expand its base," she said.