I do not think Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi is right in saying that Bal Thackeray would have shaken up and brought down the Maharashtra government over a memorial for his father.
Joshi recently threw a challenge to Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who has inherited the party from his father, and made him look like a wimp for not compelling the government to allot a plot of land for a memorial to Thackeray. Having studied the Sena and its history over the years, I personally believe that Thackeray would have cajoled the government, done a deal with it and to some extent blackmailed, emotionally or otherwise, some of its leaders if he had wanted a memorial for his father. Given the provenance of the Sena and the kind of friendships Thackeray had forged with Congress leaders, I think he would have eventually got the memorial with some give and take between him and the government and not through street fighting.
So Joshi was only being too smart by far — as usual — to give the impression that Uddhav is not a leader suited to the Sena, perhaps hoping to incite Shiv Sainiks into violence just ahead of the party’s annual Dussehra rally, the first since Thackeray’s demise in November last year. There is much criticism against Uddhav for having made no mention of a memorial to his father at that rally — which is what the Sainiks were waiting to hear and not the usual critiques of the government and various Congress leaders. While I was surprised to see a new aggression in the new Sena leader, it is just as well that he refrained from inciting the passions and emotions of his workers for
Uddhav is not Bal Thackeray — though it was clear that he has taken over the Sena “fully and finally”, I am not sure he would have the capacity to deal with the consequences of riots that could be triggered by inflamed passions.
To that extent, Uddhav’s new found aggression, I believe, was pitched just right within the bounds of decency, taking on his rivals but offering no threat to the common people and their security. But the remarkable thing, I thought , was that the usually affable and self-effacing Uddhav was riled enough to tell off Joshi publicly and make it clear who was the boss.
Joshi should be thankful that Uddhav is what he is — he might still remember that for less than such open rebellion, in Thackeray’s time, he was roughed up by Sena goons in the late 1970s. The lesson had been so salutary that he stuck loyally by Thackeray’s side after that — still getting all the top party and government posts from the Sena tiger.
It’s clear that Uddhav is not as malleable as his father had been in regard to Joshi and I also feel rather sorry that a senior leader like him should have been so publicly reprimanded by one he clearly considers a political novice. However, a generational change has happened in the Sena and the sooner Joshi realises he cannot play games with the Thackerays anymore, the better it would be for both him and the party.
Speaking to my colleagues, I was glad to know that I am not the only one who thinks the Sena is now beyond a split as many have prophesied after Joshi walked out of the party’s rally without waiting for Uddhav’s address after being heckled by the crowds. The only tectonic shift that can now take place is if Uddhav concedes his leadership to his estranged cousin Raj Thackeray but the Dussehra crowds made it clear that they are taking Bal Thackeay’s last appeal to them seriously — to stand firmly by Uddhav and his son Aditya after him — and even if Uddhav wishes to choose the conciliatory path to raise a memorial to his father, they will not take to the streets, the way Joshi wishes.
The winds of change have clearly blown over the Shiv Sena.