For the past three decades, neither allies nor rivals could ignore Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. He often set the tone in Maharashtra politics, kicking up controversies and changing equations.
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He formed the Shiv Sena in 1966 but his party emerged a major player in the 1980s. Thackeray had the ability to pick the right issues at right time - whether it was sons-of-the-soil or hardline hindutva. He had other political parties scrambling to adapt.
He created his own space and now it lies vacant. Who can fill his shoes? His son and anointed heir Uddhav has not yet proved he can. Nephew Raj has adopted an aggressive Marathi manoos agenda, staking claim to the Thackeray legacy. But, his reach is yet to extend beyond Mumbai and nearby areas.
The other question being asked is: Will the two Thackeray cousins come together? Sections in both the Sena and Raj's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena hope so. But others disagree. "The only obstacle to them coming together is: who will lead the party? Raj didn't want to play second fiddle to Uddhav and hence quit the party. If that question is not solved, how will the two come together," asked a veteran Sena leader who did not wish to be named.
The BJP leaders are trying to get Raj on board to form a BJP-Sena-MNS-RPI axis. If that happens, the Congress-NCP will have tough time retaining power in the state.
However, if the Sena loses a fourth assembly election in a row since 1999, many could desert the party and join up with more aggressive leaders such as Raj Thackeray (MNS), Ajit Pawar (NCP) or Narayan Rane (Congress). If that happens, the BJP could even dump the Sena for the MNS and even the NCP.