Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray addressing the media in Matoshree at Bandra, in Mumbai on Wednesday Image Credit: ANI

The Election Commission (EC) of India has ruled that the Shinde-Sena, the breakaway faction of the Shiv Sena party (in the state of Maharastra) is entitled to the party’s original bow and arrow symbol. Has the EC unwittingly done a giant favour to Uddhav Thackeray and team Thackeray?

Uddhav Thackeray came out roaring in vintage Sena style, calling the EC a “slave” of the Centre and alleging that ₹2000 crores had changed hands for the deal to takeaway the original Sena symbol.

The optics are telling. Thackeray is using the EC decision to paint himself a victim, which normally translates into electoral gains in India. The “Marathi manus” (or Maratha — an original inhabitant of Maharashtra) done down by cunning Delhi and looking for justice plays out equally well in Maharashtra, where regionalism is real.

Finally a good leader brought low by skulduggery and betrayal of his own — is a script that will work for Thackeray, who was widely perceived as a good, hard working chief minister (CM) during the pandemic.

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A battle of wits

Uddhav will go to the people with these theatrics — the little guy humiliated by the conspiracies of Delhi against the Maharashtra pride. The first battle will be the upcoming Brihanmumbai cooperation (BMC) election, which will be a grudge match between Thackeray and Eknath Shinde (the current CM).

The BMC elections matter because it has a budget of ₹52 thousand crore. The Sena has run it for decades and the BMC is the source of its political clout and financial wherewithal.

The delay in announcing the dates for the now overdue election is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which runs behind the original Sena — a close second — in the BMC, wants to suss out its chances.

The original Shiv Sena was founded by the late Bal Thackeray, father of Uddhav Thackeray. The senior Thackeray made Uddhav the “Sena pramukh”.

The Sena was very clearly a family party — a fact known to everyone in Maharashtra. Even the most unbiased observer would be surprised at the EC award of the Sena symbol to the breakaway faction.

The Lok Sabha Secretariat has now allotted the Shiv Sena office in Parliament House to the Eknath Shinde-led faction after the Election Commission’s decision to recognise the group as the real Shiv Sena. This comes a day after the Shinde faction took control of the party office in the Maharashtra legislative building.

Gaining statewide support

Thackeray is now drawing sympathy from significant sections, which were not part of the Sena vote base earlier.

The minority support is quiet because the community knows that the BJP will use it to target Thackeray. A section of the Mumbai middle class and the elite used to shun the Shiv Sena because it found the party unrefined.

Thackeray, who is largely seen as dignified and mild mannered, in complete contrast to his father, has given the Sena a complete makeover, which has made the Sena attractive to the earlier naysayers.

Significantly the well educated and urbane Aditya Thackeray (Uddhav’s son) has led the outreach to these sections with his particular cause environmental protection touching a chord.

Muslims across Maharashtra now support Thackeray primarily because they perceived him a fair CM during his tenure at the top job and secondly because he has spurned the BJP to sign up an alliance with the so called secular parties — the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP.

Limited role for Shinde

Shinde who catapulted himself in the CM’s seat has not been able to make a significant impact with his deputy Devendra Fadnavis hogging the limelight and publicly impatient for Shinde’s job.

The BJP had envisaged a limited role for Shinde: Use him to topple the Thackeray led government and then obligingly merge with the BJP by obliterating the Sena.

Shinde, whose ambition led him to topple the Thackeray government, has flatly refused to walk away in to the sunset and fulfil Fadnavis’ ambitions. In fact Shinde has complained to the central BJP about Fadnavis and his sabotage of the Shinde government.

The vexed issue of multi billion projects like the Vedant Foxconn deal and the Tata Airbus deal going to Gujarat is a real issue in Maharashtra, which has always had a historical antagonism and sense of competition with Gujarat. Lack of employment is a huge issue in Maharashtra and team Thackeray is all set to cash in to “favouritism towards Gujarat”.

Recently the BJP sent feelers to Thackeray to come back into the saffron embrace. Thackeray was non-committal but, with the EC order any return looks unlikely as the erstwhile allies indulge in sharp name calling. Already  Uddhav Thackeray has approached the Supreme Court, challenging the Election Commission’s decision.

The upcoming BMC elections will be key and shall depend on how sagaciously Team Thackeray uses the politics of victimhood. If Thackeray is dexterous, it could be a return to the CM post and in an election year, a power play for the big fight.