January 23, 1993, as hordes of Shiv Sainiks, smug in their “victory” over the city’s Muslims, thronged Matoshree to affirm their faith in their commander, the late Bal Thackeray and a few leaders were inside recounting their “high moments” when the Sena had made Bombay burn, Uddhav, then about 33 years old, was somewhere at the back of the Tiger’s lair, listening to the stories but not saying much.
He was Thackeray’s unThackeray-like son: quiet, cool, inclusive, indulging in his twin passions of wildlife and photography, minding his young family, and assisting his firebrand father only when called upon. In 1993, Rahul Gandhi was a not yet a teenager but had suffered the trauma of losing his father to assassins.
Twenty years later, to the day, Uddhav assumes the mantle of the president of Shiv Sena, the party that he has attempted to lead in the last few years. As he formally takes over, he remains the quiet sort — some say cultured, a relative and debatable attribute — burdened by the weight of expectations and his legacy, however disputable it may be. Twenty years later, Rahul Gandhi has been anointed the next leader of the Congress.
Both politically privileged sons, both given to parroting their parties’ lines, but both will have to rise above their legacies if they have to make meaningful contributions.
Uddhav has been a reluctant politician, relying on the loyalty and charisma that his father commanded from the cadres and the electorate than any agenda of his own. There has been much speculation in the last few weeks about his plans to re-structure the party, ease son Aditya into a functional role and render some party veterans irrelevant. That is his prerogative and an internal matter for the party.
What should concern us more are Uddhav’s vision, plans and programmes for Mumbai, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and rest of the state.
What does he want for Mumbai? How does he envision the city 20 years from now? Yes, yes, we know he isn’t too fond of migrants and he wants primacy for the Marathi manoos but we do not know his vision, if any, for the city. His views on minorities and reservation are not surprising, on India’s relationship with Pakistan are predictable, on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute are not a departure from the Sena’s belligerent position.
The Sena has been in power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for over two decades when Mumbai evolved into an automated mess it is today. Ironic then that Sena veteran Manohar Joshi termed it “a dirty city” and “an unplanned city” earlier this week. If Uddhav wants his party to contribute meaningfully to the evolution of Mumbai and MMR, he will have to begin by spelling out his vision and demonstrating his commitment to the city in positive ways.
What the Sena under Uddhav’s command will mean to Mumbai is unclear. Just as what Rahul’s Congress will mean to the country is not yet evident. Legacy cannot be their only calling card.