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The Tiger's turf


Balasaheb Thackeray settled the succession question before he passed away. But in the months and years ahead, his son and heir to the Shiv Sena throne, Uddhav will have to contend with estranged cousin Raj in an all-out tussle to control the political turf that the party supremo lorded over for more than four decades. Chandran Iyer reports on what the future might hold for Maharashtra
CHANDRAN IYER | Issue Dated: November 23, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : Bal Thackeray. Udhav Thackeray | Raj Thackeray |

The tiger is gone, leaving behind a huge, difficult-to-fill void. It is more than just the roar that will be missed by his followers. The challenge before the Shiv Sena, the party that Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray launched in 1966 on the rump of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, would be to carve a meaningful political future for itself without the man who defined it and gave it substance. A bitter power struggle to inherit Thackeray’s legacy and get a grip on his flock is inevitable, but hazarding a guess on exactly how the aftermath of his demise will pan out can only be fraught with risk.

The dust kicked up by the unprecedented gathering of two million people on Mumbai's streets to pay their last homage to the controversy-courting Sena chieftain may have settled down but the haze that surrounds the political and social skyline of Maharashtra, especially of Mumbai, the financial hub of India, is only going to thicken in the days ahead. No matter who steps into the breach, there can never be another Balasaheb.

The mortal remains of the man who personified the asmita (pride) of the state’s 112 million Marathi manoos, went up in smoke at Shivaji Park, the very maidan where the Shiv Sena was born many decades ago. Politics is like a life that never stops, but Maharashtra will never be the same without the roar of the tiger.

The adage that no man is bigger than an organisation does not hold true for Balasaheb. This cartoonist-turned-political leader may not have been more than five feet four inches in height but he was a towering personality who, with his one command, could bring Mumbai to a screeching halt. There is none who can fit into his shoes and match his charisma. The man who mesmerised Mumbai and dominated it politically for more than four decades is no more. Those who loved him called him Hindu Hriday Samrat and those who hated him compared him with Hitler, but there was none who could just ignore him. Balasaheb was a man revered not only by Shiv Sainiks but also  by many senior leaders from other parties.

He was a man who made inconsequential people into leaders. Take the case of Chandrakant Khaire. He was a man who used to sell bamboos and shrouds used for performing the last rites of Hindus. But Thackeray made him an MLA. Sanjay Sirsat, who was an autorickshaw driver and worker, became Sena MLA from Aurangabad. Manohar Joshi was just a professor, but Balasaheb not only made him a Shiv Sena leader but also the chief minister of Maharashtra.

In fact, Joshi was the first Brahmin chief minister in the history of Maharashtra. The list of one-time nonentities who rose in the Shiv Sena ranks is very long indeed. Thackeray never plunged into electoral politics and never contested any polls. Yet he remained the centre of power.

He was a man whom even the international media took note of. The Washington Post had once described him as “the man who rules Bombay the way Al Capone ruled Chicago – through fear and intimidation”.

His demise has not just left a vacuum among the Thackeray family and his millions of followers but also rattled the politics of Maharashtra as he had amazing equations with people cutting across party lines. Take the case of NCP leader Sharad Pawar, of whom Balasaheb had been a bitter critic politically. He never minced any words to criticise him in his speeches and yet on a personal level he had very good equations with him.

The senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde had publicly said that at one point of time he was so frustrated with the BJP that he was on the verge of joining the Congress. When Munde visited Balasaheb’s house, he just made one small gesture of applying tilak on his forehead and told him not to leave the saffron party and Munde retraced his steps.

The demise of the Shiv Sena supremo has thrown up several questions on the political future of Maharashtra. What will happen to the organisation? Can Balasaheb’s son Uddhav crack the whip on his party and make them follow his diktat like his father did? What will be the political stand of his estranged cousin and MNS leader Raj Thackeray be, now that the Shiv Sena throne is vacant?

Will Raj emerge as the new leader as he is viewed as the prototype of his illustrious uncle given his resemblance, his ability to make cartoons and his mannerisms in speech? If the Shiv Sena falters, will the BJP dump it and forge an alliance with MNS considering the fact that the BJP leader Nitin Gadkari has close equations with Raj? Will the split benefit the Congress or NCP in the 2014 elections?

Political observers who know the nature of Raj and Uddhav feel that a merger of MNS with the Shiv Sena can be virtually ruled out. But what one can witness in the days ahead are electoral adjustments and seat sharing. This is what the BJP in Maharashtra is also trying.

The spokesman of the BJP, Madhav Bhandari, told TSI that the power struggle between Raj and Uddhav, if any, would be only to establish their respective political supremacies in Maharashtra rather than staking any claim to the legacy of Balasaheb. This is because the Sena supremo has already passed on his legacy to his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya in his last video message to the people of Maharashtra.

In this last video recording, the Shiv Sena chief, in a shaky voice, had appealed to the people to stand by his son Uddhav and his grandson Aditya. In the 40-minute recording, he had said: “I appeal to all my followers to stand by and support my son Uddhav and my grandson Aditya in the same manner in which you stood by me. I did not impose them on you the way the Congress does. But it was you who chose them.” This video was aired at the Sena’s annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park on October 24.

Though Balasaheb has asked his followers to support Uddhav, the question is, will he be able to lead the organisation?  Kumar Ketkar, senior journalist and editor of Divya Marathi says: “This is going to be a Herculean task for him as he lacks the charisma and leadership qualities of his illustrious father Balasaheb. In the absence of a mass following this is not going to be easy”. Ketkar added that the death of Balasaheb just two years before the 2014 Assembly elections is a major setback for the party.

BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari, however, feels that things are not all that bad for the Sena. Uddhav clearly demonstrated his politcal acumen in the recently held BMC elections, he points out.

On the perception that if the Shiv Sena becomes weak then the BJP could dump its long-time political ally and shake hands with MNS because the BJP president Nitin  Gadkari is closer to Raj than Uddhav, Bhandari says: “Personal equations and political equations are two different things altogether. BJP will never dump the Sena for the sake of MNS though it will always hope that the Sena and MNS come to some sort of electoral adjustment before the next elections take place."

The group editor of Dainik Lokmat, Dinkar Raikar, says: “Though it is premature to hazard a guess about the future of the Shiv Sena at this juncture, one thing is sure that as of now, there is none who can match the stature of Balasaheb.

"Though very large numbers of people turned out for the funeral of Balasaheb, it is difficult to say whether they will spontaneously support Uddhav Thackeray quite in the manner that they supported his father because firstly, the scion  lacks the charisma of the departed leader and secondly, the 2014 general elections are still far away. It is rather doubtful how much sympathy Uddhav might be able to sway in his favour among the segment that is seen as the traditional Shiv Sena vote bank."

Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam, who was a staunch Shiv Sainik until he defected, said: “Though the power struggle between Uddhav and Raj could intensify perceptibly, it is unlikely to benefit either party because the ground realities have changed. Moreover neither of them possesses the charisma, guts and stature of Balasaheb.”

Senior Congress leader Anant Gadgil feels that the real power tussle between Uddhav and Raj could start after two or three months and could intensify before the 2014 elections.

The important thing to see at that point would be whether large chunks of Shiv Sena activists join MNS or vice versa. It is difficult to make any prediction at this juncture.

The advantage with Uddhav as of now is the fact that his party has senior leaders like Manohar Joshi, Subhash Desai and others to provide guidance and leadership whereas in the case of Raj, it is for all intents and purposes a one-man show. He will have to carry his supporters entirely on his own strength.

The tiger’s pugmarks might be impossible to match no matter how hard one may try, but it is quite obvious that, given the void that has been created following the death of Balsaheb, neither Uddhav nor Raj are likely to shy away from giving it a shot.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017