As Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray turns 80 on Tuesday, the knives are out for him and his party.
Narayan Rane, Thackeray’s former blue-eyed boy and now a Congress minister, has vowed to finish the Sena. The Sena supremo’s nephew, Raj has already floated a parallel party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), and is all geared up to eat into the Sena’s share of votes in the forthcoming civic polls. Not only that, even Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has announced that ending the saffron rule in Mumbai’s civic body tops the list of his party's priorities.
But such criticisms would hardly be daunting for Thackeray, one of the most controversial leaders in Indian politics. He may actually feel bad if his birthday had passed without much of a noise. Little wonder then that there is more tension than celebration in Sena circles on the eve of Thackeray's birthday.
“The Sena is facing crisis of leadership, agenda and programme. It has reached saturation point,” pointed out Nikhil Wagle, a veteran journalist who has been tracking the Sena for two decades.
“Besides, Thackeray is at the fag end of his political career. He is not very active in handling the party and without him, the Sena’s survival is doubtful,” Wagle added.
The party has been on the backfoot ever since it witnessed two splits last year — the first by Rane, who crossed over to the Congress with a chunk of legislators; the second by Raj Thackeray, who walked out with the party’s young brigade.
The morale of Sena workers is very low and even the party’s top leadership is not sure of a victory.
However, senior Sena leader Sanjay Raut said: “Just because a party's leader is growing old does not mean that it is the end of the road for the party.” He added: “Every time the Sena has faced crisis, it has survived and came out stronger.”
Meanwhile, Thackeray has issued an appeal to his followers not to throng to his residence in Bandra to greet him on his birthday. “Anti-social elements can get into the crowd and pose a security threat,” stated Thackeray's appeal in Sena mouthpiece Saamna.