Soon after Raj Thackeray split the Shiv Sena to form his own party, a little bird told me that Unmesh Joshi, son of former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, had made it clear to his father that he would not allow the latter’s politics to interfere with his business interests.
Raj partners Unmesh in many projects, not the least the Kohinoor Mills redevelopment. Joshi’s son was clear that even though Bal Thackeray and his nephew were now on opposite sides of the fence, he was not throwing Raj out and damaging the business.
Ever since, this conflict of interests has been a great dilemma for Joshi who has had to pacify his party supremo on the one hand and keep Raj happy on the other. Perhaps that is why Joshi gave out the impression that Raj and Balasaheb were constantly in touch over the telephone, even if they had not met up with each other in months (barring Raj’s hospital call on Balasaheb in February).
But that has now proved counterproductive. If the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ate in a big way into the Sena vote bank it is because no one has believed in the finality of the quarrel between Raj and Balasaheb. In the rural hinterland, many Sena voters are not even aware that the two cousins now run separate parties. To them both Uddhav, the son and Raj, the nephew still equal Bal Thackeray.
In the cities, though, where they know about the split, talk of secret conversations between the two have led to the impression that Balasaheb is actually on Raj’s side while a prisoner of his own circumstances in Matoshree which is now dominated by Uddhav. And Raj has been no less responsible in contributing to that impression with a whisper campaign against Uddhav accusing him of holding his father to ransom and not allowing him free reign in his own party.
But the last few months have shown that if Thackeray is now a recluse it is entirely because of his incontinence and his ill-health — he is simply unable to appear in public, is too frail and it would really be counterproductive for Sena leaders, including Uddhav, to force him to make public appearances where he can speak his own mind — that is if he can speak lucidly at all.
Nevertheless, the Thackeray split and the Joshi dilemma has replicated in even ordinary Maharashtrian families voting for the Shiv Sena — so people who voted in a large measure for the MNS at this Lok Sabha election perhaps thought they were still voting for Balasaheb, if not for his son Uddhav. And most of those who voted for Raj, I believe, were the children of older Shiv Sainiks who have stayed loyal to Balasaheb. The youngsters have been taken in by Raj’s Marathi rhetoric, not the least aided by his benami production of Mee Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy (Me, Shivaji Raje Bhosale, speaking), a timely Marathi film that pointed to exactly what Raj Thackeray has been saying for months — that the Marathi manoos is satisfied with just a “table, khurchi ani pankha” (table, chair and fan) and needs to do more — rather, be assertive — to find his rightful place in the world.
It is a bleeding that the Shiv Sena will find very difficult to stem, particularly since this is not just a political battle — it is a souring of blood ties so the Sena cannot align with the MNS in the manner in which the NCP can with the Congress despite a lot of distrust between the two. In the immediate aftermath of the results, Uddhav refused to acknowledge Raj as a spoiler, asking, “If it was the Mansay (MNS) responsible for the Congress’s clean sweep in Mumbai, was it the Dinsay that brought about a similar result in Delhi?”
Hearing Uddhav, many Sainiks despaired at the future. But two days later, Balasaheb Thackeray has not disappointed at least one person — this writer. I always knew that despite his frailty and physical dependence, he had kept his political acumen and could come up with solutions as no one else could. He has now made it clear that his blood tie to Raj is of no consequence. “Any one who damages the Marathi cause, as Raj has by dividing the Marathi vote and ensuring the election of North Indians, is my enemy. Let there be no doubt about that and about the fact that I am not in telephone conversations with him at all.”
That’s a snub to all those who believe a vote for Raj is a vote for his uncle. Balasaheb has now spoken. The next verdict could be split wide open. And blood might yet prove thinner than politics.