On Tuesday, the Shiv Sena will observe the third death anniversary of its founder, late Bal Thackeray.
Three years ago, as Thackeray passed away, questions were raised about the Sena’s future: Will Uddhav Thackeray be capable of leading the party as effectively as his father or will the party slowly disintegrate, will Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) replace it by grabbing its space and finally, if its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would become a big brother.
Three years later, some questions have been answered.
The biggest doubt being raised was over the Sena’s survival post Bal Thackeray. Uddhav has emerged as a leader who can handle the party in his own style, if not like his father.
The Modi wave during the Lok Sabha polls helped the Sena get 18 candidates elected in 2014. And as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP tried to dominate the alliance, Uddhav remained adamant over seat sharing for the Assembly polls, which led to the two parties going separate ways.
He showed the courage to attack PM Modi when the latter was at the peak of his popularity and managed to win 64 seats. Ironically, the BJP had to join hands with the Sena to form a stable government in the state, as it could not forge an alliance with the ‘tainted’ Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
While doing so, the BJP forced the Sena to participate in the government on the former’s terms without giving it any key portfolios and Uddhav failed to get a good deal.
Unhappy, Uddhav has been proving to be a thorn in the flesh for the BJP now by raising issues that keep embarrassing his ally. Often, he has been taking an aggressive stand on various issues. This has earned him more support in the Sena rank and file that initially saw him as someone who was unfit to lead the party of the sainiks who prefer ‘rada’ (street fight) over a debate. He has also displayed some shrewdness by establishing cordial relations with the likes of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to show his nuisance value.
To his benefit, the MNS, which looked like a major challenge to the Sena at the time of Thackeray’s death, seems to be struggling for existence now. This also means the initial uncertainty about the future of the Sena is put to rest. Uddhav is still inconsistent in his approach, but he has proved he can lead the party to victory. Apart from the Assembly polls, he won the crucial civic polls in Kalyan, showing impressive results in Aurangabad and Navi Mumbai. This could please his cadre.
However, his major challenge remains his ally-cum-competitor, the BJP. The biggest change since senior Thackeray’s death is that the Sena is no more a big brother. The BJP has replaced it as the major partner in the saffron alliance. Naturally, Matoshree — Thackeray’s residence in Bandra — is no more a must visit venue for top BJP leaders when they visit Mumbai. Unlike their predecessors, PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah don’t give such respect to the Sena leadership.
In fact, the BJP is still determined to end Sena’s dominance on the Mumbai civic body, which has for decades been a source of power and strength for the Sena leadership. It is part of the BJP’s expansionist agenda. Nobody knows whether the two parties will fight a bitter battle for the control of the Mumbai civic body or will be forced to stick together owing to the changing political equations.
So, where does the Sena go from here? It is clear that the Sena won’t disintegrate under Uddhav. It will remain a major political force for the next few years. Beyond that, it is up to the Sena leadership, the decisions it takes and how the BJP manages to handle the things.