The ongoing legal battle between the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s sons has brought the focus back on the power struggle within one of the most influential families in Indian politics. With Jaidev Thackeray and his younger brother, party chief Uddhav, fighting over their father’s will, it’s a déjà vu moment for the family.
In 1996, after Bal Thackeray’s eldest son, Bindumadhav, died in a car crash, differences between Jaidev and other family members came to the fore. Jaidev soon moved out of Matoshree, the Thackerays’ family home at Bandra’s Kalanagar – a colony of plush bungalows and small buildings developed on government-sanctioned land for litterateurs and artists. While Jaidev lived separately, his second wife, Smita, continued to stay at Matoshree and went on to emerge as a power centre within the party between 1995 and 1999.
The death of Bindumadhav and Jaidev distancing himself from the family were a few of the many personal setbacks that Bal Thackeray had to face in the 1990s. His wife, Meenatai, had passed away in 1995. His nephew, Raj – seen as his political heir at the time – was accused of being involved in the murder of Ramesh Kini, a Dadar resident, who had refused to vacate his house to facilitate a redevelopment project helmed by one of Raj’s associates. (Raj was later absolved of the charges by a trial court).
During this period, Smita’s influence within the party grew. She along with Raj, according to party insiders, played a crucial role in getting chief minister Manohar Joshi replaced with Narayan Rane as she did not get along well with the former. Congress leaders from the state had even alleged that top bureaucrats used to be summoned to Matoshree, where Smita would dictate what decisions needed to be taken on certain matters.
With Sena, however, losing power to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance in the 1999 state elections; and Uddhav emerging as the future leader of the party, Smita’s grip over affairs loosened.
As Uddhav and wife Rashmi took charge at Matoshree, Smita moved out of the family home and began living in an apartment at Shivaji Park in Dadar. She soon forayed into Bollywood and launched a production company. Smita also opened a non-government organization (NGO), Mukti Foundation, to organise various events.
A few years later, irked by Uddhav’s growing stature in the Sena, Smita threatened to join the Congress. However, Congress leaders did not show any interest in giving her any key positions in the party.
Ironically, the common link between Jaidev and Smita today is their differences with Uddhav.
THE LEGAL FEUD
Jaidev has challenged Bal Thackeray’s will, claiming that his father was of “unsound mind” when he prepared it and Uddhav influenced him. According to the will, the first floor of Matoshree has been bequeathed to Aishwarya Thackeray, Smita’s son (Jaidev, during his cross-examination in the high court on Wednesday, said Aishwarya is not his biological son). According to the will, Jaidev and Smita are barred from using the first floor.
Interestingly, Aishwarya is the only grandchild of Bal Thackeray to receive a share in the family property. Bal Thackeray is survived by five grandchildren, including Uddhav’s son and Yuva Sena chief Aaditya.
The court is in the process of recording depositions of witnesses and has already completed the cross-examination of witnesses on Uddhav’s side. According to Uddhav, Bal Thackeray, who passed away on November 17, 2012, made his “last will while he was of sound mind in December 2011.”
Now, as the case continues to be heard in the high court, and with allegations and counter-allegations flying thick and fast, the Thackerays’ legacy is at stake.