Finally, Uddhav Thackeray resigned. Maharashtra now has a new government with Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde as the new chief minister. In the midst of the political crisis, Uddhav had sneered: “Will you promise they will make the chief minister from the Shiv Sena”? Well, now they have, and that has just made Uddhav’s life more difficult. More on that later.
For the 62-year-old Shiv Sena leader, this was undoubtedly the biggest crisis of his political career. The soft-spoken Uddhav grew up in the shadow of his domineering father, the late Bal Thackeray, who transformed the Shiv Sena into a powerful force in Mumbai and Maharashtra. Bal Thackeray was a towering figure, his aggression a sharp contrast to son Uddhav’s soft demeanour.
Politics wasn’t Uddhav Thackeray’s obvious career choice. He graduated from the J J Institute of Applied Arts with photography as his main subject. It was widely believed that his cousin Raj would be the natural successor to Bal Thackeray as he took an active interest in politics. But then Uddhav took some tentative steps in the 90s, and the next big step in his political career was his appointment as executive president at a Mahabaleshwar convention in 2002.
This didn’t go down well with Raj Thackeray, with his uncle choosing his reluctant son over him. In 2005, Raj Thackeray quit the Sena.
When Bal Thackeray died in 2012, many wondered whether Uddhav had it in him to steer the Shiv Sena forward. But he did and did it well. Despite the challenges of a sulking Raj and his new party, the MNS, and a rebellion by leaders like Narayan Rane, Uddhav Thackeray ensured the Sena’s primacy and growth.
It is therefore somewhat ironic that much of the rebellion he faces today is on account of simmering discontent within the party over the unnatural alliance with the NCP and the Congress and a belief that the Shiv Sena’s core ideology of Hindutva had been compromised.
It’s no secret that leaders like Eknath Shinde were not comfortable with the progressive politics that Uddhav and his son Aaditya were espousing.
Aaditya’s rise caused resentment, and so did the chief minister’s seeming aloofness and inaccessibility. Party insiders say it was almost impossible to get a meeting with Uddhav, who surrounded himself with only a small group of loyalists. It didn’t help that a spine surgery put him out of action for several months.
Speaking to me on NDTV in an exclusive interview, Aaditya Thackeray described the rebellion as a betrayal. “To be betrayed by your own is a whole different thing altogether,” he said.
When asked about the inaccessibility of his father, he said: “He underwent two surgeries in the month of November, and for that, he had to be isolated for a month and a half, which is a sad thing. Because it is this time exactly and this reason exactly that these little rebellion leaders have taken and brainwashed some of our MLAs who’ve been taken away with them.”
How Shiv Sena ties with BJP soured
His handling of the pandemic came for much praise, as he honestly communicated the difficulties with citizens and didn’t hide the numbers. Mumbai got its act together much faster and better than the national capital, where people collapsed for lack of oxygen.
The alliance with the Congress and the NCP was a big political gamble for Uddhav. It came after decades-long ties with the BJP had begun to fray, with the Modi-Shah BJP not as accommodating with allies as they used to be.
The first Sena-BJP split was, in fact, in 2014, over differences over seat-sharing in the assembly elections. They came together after the elections, but it was an uneasy relationship.
Speaking to party leaders some months ago, Uddhav explained why the Shiv Sena had to walk away from the BJP. He said, “We supported the BJP wholeheartedly to enable them to fulfil their national ambitions. The understanding was they will go national while we will lead in Maharashtra. But we were betrayed, and attempts were made to destroy us in our home. So we had to hit back.”
For Uddhav Thackeray, the big challenge now is how to save his party. The BJP’s decision to make Eknath Shinde the chief minister has made Uddhav’s task even more difficult. In one stroke, the BJP called his bluff and ensured his return would be very difficult.
With crucial municipal polls of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, or BMC, coming up soon, he has his task cut out.