"Aww... I like happy endings!" a friend on my timeline tweeted as reports came in that Raj Thackeray, president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), had driven his estranged cousin Uddhav Thackeray, son of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and the party’s working president, home: after a day spent in hospital.
Instantly, there was speculation that they were sinking their ‘professional’ differences to come together again as a family. The sense of family is truly great among the Thackerays but, as much as I have known them over the years, I believe it is the family – and personal – differences that have really got in the way of their relationship and driven their politics over the past few years. I know I am being an utter cynic but, even as I salute Raj Thackeray for his unerring political instincts, I cannot help thinking that he has cleverly used ‘family’ once again to further his politics. Or, more correctly, as my colleague in the know of things vis-a-vis the Sena said, “He has bought himself some insurance for the future.”
It has been quite apparent to many reporters on the beat that Raj Thackeray’s MNS has not really been doing too well at the grassroots despite some spectacular victories at the 2009 elections. In fact, Raj had to opt out of the recent elections to the Maharashtra Legislative Council from the teachers’ and graduates’ constituencies because, despite intense efforts in the past year, the MNS just could not build its base among these educated voters. I am told that went into a sulk, even threatened to shut down the MNS because – his reasoning to his confidantes – ‘no one is interested in building the party up’.
That did not quite surprise me. When Bal Thackeray set up his Shiv Sena in the 1960s, his workers were ordinary middle-class people, with hardly any stakes in the system and no interests to ‘safeguard’. They were jobless youth who could take to the streets within minutes of Thackeray’s call to arms and get Bombay burning in no time at all. Now, while most of Thackeray’s old gang have gotten grey and grizzled, the younger lot who make up Raj’s party are the complete opposite of Balasaheb’s supporters: builders and businessmen wishing to remain in the mainstream and with their own financial interests to look after. The Congress-led Democratic Front government in Maharashtra has learnt to squeeze those business interests to make Raj’s potential street fighters fall in line and, therefore, no one is willing to stretch his neck out for Raj. They are quite happy to grab whatever he might have to offer, though.
I am reminded of what a despondent Congressman had told me after his party lost a series of elections across the country: "Most of us look to Sonia Gandhi only for what she can give us in terms of party and government posts. She wins elections on her own personal charisma but those of us who actually win those seats are simply not interested in repaying her by building the voter bases at our own levels. One day her charisma is bound to play itself out and we will then be left with no party at all."
That is precisely what seems to be happening to Raj. I am sure he is intelligent enough to realise that without the grassroots builders (and not just the brick-and-mortar ones), he might one day have to shut down his own party. Hence he’s “buying insurance’’ by keeping a line open to Matoshree, even if he has to tamp down on his personal feelings of animosity and resentment for Uddhav which, amply returned, is what essentially drove the two cousins apart in the first place.
But Raj is a master at playing to the gallery. Under similar circumstances, Uddhav, more honest about his feelings, might yet have visited his cousin but certainly not made political capital out of it.
I believe Raj will never play second fiddle to anyone again. Essentially, both cousins are fighting for the same space and the affections of the same patriarch. So I think it is highly unlikely that the two Senas will merge or that the cousins will ever be able to get over their sibling rivalry long enough to make a difference.
This, clearly, is no fairy tale. So the story does not end here yet with Uddhav and Raj living, arm-in-arm, happily ever after.