From a reluctant heir to the party boss who has complete control over the Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray has come a long way.
For a long time, Uddhav stayed out of the party’s decision-making as his father and cousin Raj were at the centre-stage.
When he was appointed the executive president of the Shiv Sena in 2003, Uddhav was struggling to make his presence felt in the Sena top brass. In the subsequent years, his leadership was frequently challenged from within the party. Strong leaders such as Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane did not want to work under him and walked out of the Sena with their supporters. This damaged the Sena’s prospects and it failed to win power in 2004 and 2009 Assembly elections. Further, it lost the position of the main Opposition party to ally BJP as Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ate into their share of votes. By then, very few people had doubts that the Sena was on the decline.
For Uddhav, the relief came in the form of last year’s civic elections as he managed to retain power in Mumbai municipal corporation and retained Sena’s strongholds in neighbouring cities such as Thane and Kalyan. He even managed to keep his flock together. With most detractors out of the party, he put his trusted aides in key party positions and established complete control over the Sena. All this while, his trump card was his father. Things may change now, as his father is not around.
As he formally takes over as the chief of his party on Wednesday, the question being asked is, “Will he be able to take the Sena forward?”
Going by the current mood in the Sena, nobody can answer this confidently.
The Sena’s rank and file is in a confused state. After senior Thackeray’s demise, the party has not taken a firm stand on any issue. Its flip-flop over building Thackeray’s memorial at Shivaji Park has further confused the cadre.
Uddhav’s ability to lead the party will be put to test in the coming days. He will have to ensure that he does not lose able leaders from his party to poaching by rival parties. On the other hand, he will have to counter Raj Thackeray who is expected to go on the offensive from next month to occupy the Sena’s space.
And these could be just part of problems. He will have to make his army ready for the 2014 Assembly elections, which could prove to be most important election for his career.