While the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has marked the end of an era that signified fiery oratory, right-wing views, and son of the soil crusades, the question being asked now is: Who will take his legacy ahead and occupy that political space?
Will it be his son Uddhav, a
mild-mannered, careful thinker and systematic planner who is heading the Shiv Sena? Or will it be the charismatic, aggressive and politically smart Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Chief Raj Thackeray? Or none of them?
In his last address to his followers through a video recorded message, Thackeray appealed them to `take care' of Uddhav-an indication that he would be his official heir. But, will the party workers follow his word now?
A major reason the questions are being asked over his legacy or Sena's future is the split in the party caused by exit of Raj following power-tussle with cousin Uddhav.
For several years, it was Raj, son of Thackeray's younger brother Shrikant, who was seen as his political heir. He headed the Sena's student's wing, the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena and accompanied the Sena Chief everywhere, picked up his style and mannerisms.
According to Sena insiders, the trouble started during the Sena-BJP regime in state when Raj got embroiled in murder case of Ramesh Kini, a Dadar resident, in a tenant versus landlord dispute. Sena insiders say it was this time when Thackeray began thinking whether he really wanted Raj to be his successor.
Some Sena seniors who did not get along well with Raj got a wind of this and started convincing the Sena chief how Uddhav would be a better option. Things took such a turn that in 2004, Uddhav was made executive president.
In this file photo, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray is flanked by son Uddhav Thakeray and nephew and MNS chief Raj Thackeray at a press conference in Mumbai. PTI
This intensified the power tussle between Uddhav and Raj, which later culminated in Raj quitting the party with his supporters in 2006. He adopted more aggressive agenda and hijacked a large chunk of Sena votebank.
It led to Sena-BJP's failure to win 2009 assembly election despite strong anti-incumbency against the Congress-NCP government.
On the other hand, Uddhav was seen piggybacking the Sena chief who appealed for votes even in the worse of health.
He even launched his son Aditya as a chief of the Yuva Sena, a youth wing formed to counter Raj's fan following within the younger generation.
But now with Thackeray's demise, the question that remains is who can claim the Thackeray legacy?
"There were two things that defined Thackeray. One his political style- which was aggressive and action oriented on field, and approachable as a politician. And second, was his association with the sons of the soil issue. The leader who can get most close to this will take his legacy forward,"said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
Jondhale who has been observing the two brothers for over 2 decades says Raj is better placed as long as typical Sena agenda is concerned.
"People are yet to identify Uddhav with the Marathi manoos. He has limited people connect which is different from his father. Whereas, Raj gets closer to the Thackeray style of politics,"he says.
But is that enough?
When senior Thackeray picked the Marathi agenda way back in 1966, the situation was quite ripe with large-scale unemployment in Mumbai.
Now things are different with the boom in service sector and Maharashtrians are finding jobs. Even migration to Mumbai has slowed down.
There are doubts if this agenda would work for a long time. In late 1980s, Thackeray switched to Hindutva when he realised that his Marathi agenda was not enough to spread beyond Mumbai. Uddhav and Raj will have to find ways to go beyond the obvious limits.
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