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Warring Thackeray cousins grow further apart

On Sunday, all eyes were on the road to Raj's house, which is just a five-minute walk to the Bal Thackeray memorial. Even Sena leaders were heard whispering that they hoped Raj would come but he stayed indoors.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2013 17:04 IST
Sayli Udas Mankikar

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has made it clear that he is in no mood for a patch up with his cousin and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.

On Sunday, all eyes were on the road to Raj’s house, which is just a five-minute walk to the Bal Thackeray memorial. Even Sena leaders were heard whispering that they hoped Raj would come, as this is the only likely occasion before the 2014 elections that the cousins could come face to face. But Raj stayed indoors all day. It was exactly a year ago that Uddhav and Raj met, at Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Since then, the two have grown further apart, to a point that all speculation of them reconciling has petered out.

After various failed attempts to patch things up, Uddhav has made it clear that the Sena-BJP combine is capable of fighting both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in 2014 without the MNS. And this is despite the fact that the MNS played spoilsport for the Sena in the 2009 assembly elections by spitting its Marathi vote bank. The MNS won six assembly seats in Mumbai while Sena’s tally in city came down to four from nine in 2004.

“All eyes are on the MNS chief, on what he does next and how he plays his cards. But if he joins hands with Uddhav, it will be political suicide,” said political commentator Prakash Bal.

Ironically, during his final Dussehra rally, a fortnight before he died on November 17 last year, a frail Bal Thackeray had said he wanted to see his son Uddhav and nephew Raj put their differences aside and come together.

At one point, Uddhav did extend an olive branch to Raj, through an interview in party mouthpiece Saamna in January this year. However the MNS chief snubbed Uddhav, saying such matters could not be laid to rest through newspapers.

Bal said not accepting Uddhav’s invitation was the only option available to Raj if he wanted to have a political career. “Now that Bal Thackeray is not around, it is time for Raj to build his image and identity. His strength is that people perceive him to be charismatic, a youth leader and an alternative,” he said.

And for Uddhav, there is a bigger test in store, said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

“People in the Sena are used to an approach where Balasaheb gave instructions and they were followed. Between the two brothers, there is no doubt that Raj is more charismatic and has the senior Thackeray’s appeal. So for Uddhav to keep the Sainiks with him is a challenge,” Jondhale said.

While experts believe it is unlikely that the MNS will have a pre-poll alliance with the BJP-Sena, they say that there could be an informal understanding between them, with Raj having praised Narendra Modi’s leadership.

“I do not see the Sena-BJP combine coming into power without the help of the MNS. There could be a seat adjustment or post-poll handshake with the MNS, but certainly not a pre-poll one,” said Bal.