Pawar Uddav
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has a strong political association with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar Image Credit: PTI

Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra chief minister (CM) and his party - the Shiv Sena (SS) - announced their arrival outside Maharashtra by winning the key Dadra and Nagar Haveli union territory seat.

The arrival was not announced with a Big Bang but, the usual understated style of Thackeray, 61, who has a trademark wry sense of humour and keeps delivering punch lines with a straight face.

Uddhav Thackeray is the antithesis of his father Bal Thackeray, Sena founder. It is a mark of how far Uddhav Thackeray has come after initial failure that the SS cadre who loved his father now hold the son in the same affection.

Thackeray senior was a sharp political cartoonist before he switched to politics and Uddhav shares the cartoonist’s sharp eye with his father.

However the person who is responsible for the metamorphosis of Thackeray into a cold political mover and shaker, who rules India’s most glamorous city — Mumbai, headquarters of corporates as well as Bollywood — is the four-time CM and Maratha strong man Sharad Pawar, 80, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Pawar, the political grandee, rules Maharashtra alongside the Sena and Congress. The alliance is called Maha Vikas Aghadi — MVA — or Maharashtra Development Front.

Fascinating political equation

Thackeray and Pawar share a fascinating political equation. It is a political relationship and alliance that goes beyond the transactional deals that normally make up Indian political relationships.

The relationship between them is warmly personal with the two families sharing a real bond. It’s the quintessential “Marathi manus” bond which has evolved in to a beneficial political relationship, where power is shared for mutual benefit.

Both men share a huge respect for women — again somewhat unusual in Indian politics. Pawar once told me that his political inspiration was his mother.

Thackeray, who had a love marriage with Rashmi, ensuring that he runs most political moves by her. Their son Aditya Thackeray, a minister in his father’s government, took the oath by including his mother’s name.

Pawar is the leader who makes all things possible in Indian politics and has epic stories of his wiliness as testimony on the political grapevine.

Currently with Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan and his son Aryan Khan under siege from the central agency Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Pawar and Thackeray are scripting the counter attack which has seen Nawab Malik, an NCP minister, morph in to a national boldface name with his daily exposes on Sameer Wankhede, NCB official who is accused of alleged extortion and blackmail in the Aryan Khan case.

Pawar and Thackeray believe that Bollywood is under siege because some political parties who are unable to make a dent in Maharashtra politics want to move the glamorous industry, which is at the apex of India’s soft power, out of Mumbai.

And, Pawar with his penchant for cricket (he ran the BCCI board for decades) and Bollywood, has decided that Maharashtra will fight back.

The first round of the fight was the counter attack on Wankhede. The bigger fight will be for the richest municipal body in the India — the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which has an annual budget of ₹ 40 thousand crore a year. Currently, the Sena wants nothing more than to retain the BMC which gives most full states a run for their money in terms of wealth.

Thackeray, as is his style, is working quietly towards ensuring that he and the Sena retain control of the richest municipal body. Silently guiding him behind the scenes is Pawar, who is the godfather of the MVA alliance. The Sena and the NCP have almost pushed the Congress (the third party in the MVA equation) out of consideration.

Pawar and Thackeray believe that Bollywood is under siege because some political parties who are unable to make a dent in Maharashtra politics want to move the glamorous industry, which is at the apex of India’s soft power, out of Mumbai.

Pawar still has one unfinished dream job to become India’s Prime Minister (PM) but if you ask him publicly, as I did, he will deny it, saying how can a small party have such big dreams. But currently with the churn in the opposition space (as the Congress nearly cedes its national opposition status), all opposition leaders are dreaming big and nursing PM ambitions.

Thackeray, who had no administrative experience before he became CM, impressed India with his accessible public style addressing Maharashtra almost daily on the pandemic when information was at a premium and panic ruled.

His calm, nice guy demeanour ensured that he became a national leader. And, when you have corporate support — virtually all Indian companies are headquartered in Mumbai and a sympathetic Bollywood, you can dream big of stepping outside Mumbai and going national.

If Sena-NCP win the BMC elections due next year, expect a joint India outreach by Thackeray and Pawar. Both have big dreams and a plan to conquer India.