Back in the days when it became apparent that Raj Thackeray was chafing at the bit and would soon chart his own course within or outside the Shiv Sena, his older cousin Uddhav Thackeray had chided me roundly for attempting to sow the seeds of discord between "two brothers''.
That had confused me somewhat for even Bal Thackeray, around the same time, had sworn that if there was ever a difference of opinion between the two cousins, they would choose to quit politics rather than break the ties of blood. But Bal Thackeray clearly could not read the minds of his son and nephew too well and exactly the opposite happened.
Now it has taken two years for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president to cover the distance of a few yards from his residence to his uncle's makeshift memorial at the Shivaji Park. The second death anniversary of Bal Thackeray on Monday was quite different from the first one and clearly the feeling of political marginalisation has compelled the cousins to make a public show of coming together.
However, Raj and Uddhav cannot reunite as it will be a Catch-22 situation for them. Raj, of course, seems completely marginalised at this moment and so he has climbed down from his high horse to extend the hand of friendship to his older cousin. For Uddhav the move is akin to creating a political buffer should the BJP attempt to withdraw support to the Shiv Sena in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The MNS has enough numbers to counter the BJP's withdrawal of support. However, even if the two cousins come together, there's not much in it for them. Raj will have to submerge his identity should he decide to dissolve the MNS and return to the Shiv Sena. Uddhav will be forced to live under constant fear that Raj will somehow snatch the reins of the Shiv Sena and hollow out his support base, thus rendering him eventually irrelevant.
On Bal Thackeray's death anniversary, I was asked by many people if things would have been different had he been alive. The obvious answer to that, of course, is that the BJP would never have had the gumption to break its alliance with the Shiv Sena, for even today neither Narendra Modi nor the RSS is quite sure of how much the emotional appeal of Bal Thackeray still remains among his supporters. One cannot ignore the fact that Uddhav batted all alone against a battery of the BJP's best campaigners, including the highly charismatic Modi and yet his party managed to win more than half the seats the BJP could manage under the best circumstances.
So, much as Uddhav might feel somewhat marginalised under the current political scenario, he does not realise his own strengths. I wonder how many people have noted that Uddhav's show in the assembly elections has been far better than that of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar. His Congress(S) after its split from the Congress in 1978 could only manage to win 57 seats in the assembly. Twenty years later in 1999, after the second split, despite substantial consolidation and no one to match Pawar's political prowess, his NCP won only 58 seats. This time around the party won 41 seats while the Shiv Sena won 63 seats.
However, now there seems to be a belated recognition in at least the RSS of the inadvisability of alienating the Shiv Sena. This is perhaps why Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has made a suo moto announcement about setting up a committee towards a full-fledged memorial to Bal Thackeray.
Of course, the BJP believed during the assembly elections that it could do without the Shiv Sena. However, by throwing Uddhav to the wolves the BJP has just made the former aware of his own strengths.
The alliance with the BJP over 25 years had kept the Shiv Sena's growth in check. Breaking the alliance may have unleashed the 'chhota tiger', as he is now being described by many of the Sena's supporters.
I wonder then where his now subdued cousin fits into that picture frame.