- The Sena was the first party to ally with the BJP nearly three decades ago when the BJP was a pariah in politics.
- Expect fireworks before the elections as both the partners stuck in this unhappy marriage bargain.
The late Bal Thackeray used to describe himself as the “remote control of the Maharashtra BJP and Shiv Sena government. Now, the times have changed. And for the first time in the history of the Thackeray family, his grandson Aditya Thackeray plans to contest the upcoming state elections and have a punt for power directly.
The Thackerays are the first family of Mumbai - India’s richest city, which pays the most taxes and is the financial capital of the country. Before an interview, I asked Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, directions to Matoshree, the lair of the tiger.
Uddhav, a very gentle and extremely talented photographer, smiled and said: “Don’t worry your driver will know.” Uddhav was spot on.
Uddhav Thackeray is most unlike his father, who would boast that he could stop Mumbai moving at will with just one public call.
Raj Thackeray, his nephew, is virtually Bal Thackeray’s doppelgänger and wanted the Sena leadership as his inheritance. When the mantle passed to Uddhav, Raj walked out and formed his own party the Maharashtra Navnirvan Sena.
Raj Thackeray recently got a notice from the Enforcement Directorate after he had held a series of public meetings using innovative power point presentations to mock Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the general elections.
With the Maharashtra state elections barely a month away, the BJP is not taking any chances with Raj Thackeray’s fiery oratory.
A tricky alliance
The BJP-Shiv Sena relationship is complex. The Sena was the first party to ally with the BJP nearly three decades ago when the BJP was a pariah in politics. The Sena was the big brother then and called the shots and also got a nominee as the chief minister.
A lot has changed under Amit Shah’s stewardship of the BJP. The BJP played hardball and contested the last elections alone. In the inevitable post-poll alliance, it emerged as the big brother and ensured that Devendra Fadnavis became the chief minister.
The Thackerays swallowed their pride for a stake in power. Now they want a realignment and a big job for young Aditya, 29, who has no administrative experience. That has not deterred him and he has hit the road in the time tested way of a wannabe leader -- a Yatra.
Thackeray junior unlike his father went to an English medium school, publicly cares about the environment and is often seen with Bollywood actresses. Interestingly, he made his public debut years ago in a joint interview with his father on TV on my show.
Except for the beard, mostly everything about him has changed. He now echoes his grandfather’s confidence. But currently India is disenchanted with political dynasts.
Before the general elections Shah made a ritual trip to Matoshree and sealed the alliance. The Shiv Sena shot for the moon and wanted young Thackeray to be made chief minister. Apparently, Shah bargained them down to deputy chief minister.
But the BJP is now resurgent and does not want to keep its part of the bargain. Shah has enough in-house surveys that say that the BJP will easily win a majority.
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The Sena like most of the BJP’s alliance partners is a pale shadow of itself. Junior Thackeray, who apparently has an image consultancy advising him, is a cultural misfit with the rough and ready Sena cadre. His Marathi speaking skill does not convince them or enthuse them the way Bal Thackeray did.
The Sena’s particularly chauvinist political construct of “Mee Marathi” (Marathi first) is waning under assault from the BJP’s big tent Hindutva identity politics.
Expect fireworks before the elections as both the partners stuck in this unhappy marriage bargain. Currently the relationship status is very complicated. And if Raj Thackeray does a “ghar wapsi” (return) to his cousin and the Sena, the BJP could see red.
On the sides waits the canniest Maharashtra politician NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, who is the current adviser to both branches of the Thackeray family.