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The 2014 Lok Sabha elections will be the first polls for the Shiv Sena after the death of the party patriarch, Bal Thackeray, in 2012. And this time around the focus is on his son and political heir — 53-year-old Uddhav, who is leading the party from the front.
All eyes are now on the new Sena chief to see how he bails out the party from the current political situation.
Estranged cousin and chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Raj Thackeray has put Uddhav in a tight spot after declaring support to Narendra Modi, while fielding candidates against the Shiv Sena.
Read: How Raj Thackeray foxed Shiv Sena, BJP in one stroke
Read: Raj Thackeray’s local politics and BJP’s national ambitions
But the usually calm and composed Uddhav has proved his adversaries wrong yet again. He has showed that he is not naïve or clueless when it comes to politics, by seeking answers from ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and clearly saying that he won’t hesitate to go solo.
On ground zero, however, the reality is that the MNS will divide the Marathi votes.
Not possessing the fiery and charismatic oratory skills of his cousin, Uddhav will have to find a way to keep the vote bank intact.
Under his guidance, the Sena has won the Mumbai civic body twice — in 2007 and 2012. However in 2009, with MNS cutting into its votes, the Sena failed to put up an impressive show with just 11 Lok Sabha seats and 45 assembly seats.
In fact, four of its sitting MPs have rebelled, raising questions over the Sena leadership.
SENA’S NEW AVATAAR
The Shiv Sena has, in the past few years, shifted from its traditional image of being a party of rowdy and violent men fighting for regional issues related to the sons of the soil.
Bal Thackeray’s pet issues such as j obs for the Marathi manoos are no longer talked about.
Today, issues such as unemployment, job security, price rise are on the Sena’s 2014 poll agenda. While Hindutva is still an important issue, it is mentioned in the passing to ensure that the Hindu vote is secured.
With the aim of appealing to the youth, Uddhav’s 23-year-old son Aaditya has been appointed as the chief of the Yuva Sena.
Over the past few years, Uddhav has been gradually building his own team of confidants who can efficiently run the Sena. Old guards whom he does not trust or who no longer have any appeal have been edged out—former CM Manohar Joshi being the latest.
He has also been promoting young faces — Rahul Shewale, who heads the civic standing committee, is the Sena’s candidate in south-central Mumbai, and advocate Rahul Narvekar, a member of the Yuva Sena, has been pitched for the Legislative Council elections.
FUTURE PLANNING, STRONG SYSTEM
“We started planning for the elections a long time ago. We divided the entire state into different zones. Every party worker and organisation has been allotted a zone for the next two months. We have our people spread out, especially in areas where the Congress and NCP have strong presence,” said Anil Desai, Sena MP.
One of the biggest strengths of the Sena has been its dedicated and loyal force. It also has a defined structure that begins with Uddhav as the Sena chief, followed by general secretaries, district heads, taluka heads, ward heads, and shakha (branch) heads.
Like his father, Uddhav believes in personal interactions with his men to get feedback from all over the state.
Even six months before the Lok Sabha elections, he had identified half of the candidates and asked them to prepare for the polls.
“Uddhav knows he does not have the charisma to draw the crowds. Hence, he has concentrated on strengthening the organisation, meeting people himself and touring the state. This will probably pay off in the elections,” said political observer Prakash Akolkar.
The Sena also has one of the strongest women forces, the Mahila Aghadi, a labour force governed by the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena and the Yuva Sena.
DEALING WITH FRIENDS, FOES
One of the biggest challenges for the Sena is dealing with the MNS. In the 2009 elections, the Raj-led party dented the Sena’s prospects, as it did not win any seats in Mumbai.
In 2014, the MNS is fighting the same seats against the Sena. And now with the BJP cosying up with his arch nemesis, Uddhav is treading carefully.
Though he wants to ride on the anti-Congress wave and be part of the Narendra Modi success story, if it takes place, Uddhav is weighing his options carefully before making the next move.
“To prove its mettle, the Sena will not only have to retain the 11 seats it won in 2009, but increase the tally to remain a significant partner of the NDA. Uddhav will also have to win the assembly elections later this year,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.