Uddhav Thackeray, 61, the Maharashtra chief minister and the pramukh (chief) of the Shiv Sena, is an accidental leader — the complete anthesis of his father, the firebreathing Bal Thackeray, the Sena founder.
Thackeray had initially decreed that his political heir was his oldest son Bindu Madhav who died in a car accident. But Thackeray fell out with his second son Jayant over his marital troubles, and finally the mantle fell on the youngest — Uddhav.
Uddhav, a mild-mannered, soft-spoken and highly cultured man, is a wildlife photographer with a particular interest in tigers — the symbol of his party. Thackeray has also documented the forts in Maharashtra through aerial photography.
The patience of a wildlife photographer
An extraordinary level of patience is required for wildlife photography, and Uddhav scores high on patience and silence. Living in the giant shadow of his father, Uddhav learnt to be self-deprecatory with a wry sense of humour. Unlike most leaders who are consumed by politics, Uddhav is a very fond husband to his wife Rashmi and a loving father to his sons Aditya and Tejas.
Uddhav was introduced to Rashmi, a LIC India employee at the time, by cousin Raj Thackeray, who used to be Uddhav’s best friend. Raj Thackeray, who was brought up by Bal Thackeray, is a virtual doppelganger of his uncle. Raj was so inspired by Saheb or Sarkar, as the senior Thackeray was known, that he copied the speech mannerisms and even the hairstyle of Balasaheb.
The low-key Uddhav and firebrand Raj used to hang out together and were inseparable. However, political ambition separated them, with Balasaheb decreeing that Uddhav would be his heir and the chief of the Sena.
Uddhav and his wife took care of his father, living with him in Matoshree, when in his later years, Balasaheb suffered from various ailments that restricted his movements. Yet while he was alive, Balasaheb ran the Sena with an iron fist, not ceding control and authority. Balasaheb called himself a “remote control” of the Sena-led governments in Maharashtra and put chief ministers like Manohar Joshi on public notice.
In return, his rowdy Sainiks adored Balasaheb. All his wishes were their commands, which were carried out with nary a question.
Uddhav’s first foray into politics included a stint as the publisher of Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, which was as aggressive as the Sena. Gradually, Uddhav took over the mantle and became the first Thackeray to hold elected office. Uddhav also discovered that he was a good communicator, calming and reassuring the people of Maharashtra during the second vicious wave of the COVID pandemic.
The trouble started when a spinal surgery kept him away from his ministers. Uddhav had earlier undergone cardiac surgery, and his family urged him not to ignore his health.
Perhaps, if other parties were not so keen to torpedo the unlikely MVA alliance and the government, Uddhav could have recovered the lost ground. But unfortunately, his ailments were used to paint him as uncommunicative.
A change in Uddhav’s working style is on the anvil, and the elections to Mumbai’s Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, or BMC, in September/October will show if the Sena under Uddhav is a real tiger.