Even two years after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death, the battle for his legacy continues between his son Uddhav and nephew Raj.
The warring cousins have been at loggerheads ever since Thackeray decided to take a step back from the party in the early 2000s.
Even as Uddhav and Raj contest the other’s claims over this legacy, a common thread binds them both — the political isolation they find themselves in after the first round of major elections post Thackeray’s demise.
Perhaps, in a bid to save the legacy they have been fighting for, the time has come for both to put aside their differences to cut the rising Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) down to size. “Bal Thackeray’s legacy in Maharashtra’s politics is not as relevant now because both the Senas have been marginalised. The only way they can now ensure his legacy remains relevant is by joining hands,” said political commentator and former journalist Prakash Bal. According to Bal, the two parties will have to reinvent themselves or come together if they want to take on the BJP.
Politically, Uddhav seems to be on a stronger footing than Raj. In the Lok Sabha elections, Uddhav’s first major election after his father’s death, the Shiv Sena managed to get 18 candidates elected as MPs. After the break-up with the BJP before the assembly elections, Uddhav managed to get 63 MLAs elected by taking on Modi. “We were the only ones to take Modi on.
Even during this Modi wave, Uddhav showed the courage to go against him by calling him Afzal Khan. This definitely brought warmth to the ordinary Shiv Sainik, who thought the party had lost its aggression,” said a Sena leader from Parel.
However, if Uddhav’s aggression won him brownie points, his meek submission and his eagerness to get back with a reluctant BJP, are seen by hardcore Sainiks as a clear emasculation of the late Sena chief’s party.
On the other hand, Raj and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) find themselves in the throes of a battle to remain politically relevant. His flip-flops, long periods of inactivity and the questions over his credibility, topped off by the electoral debacle, have got many to write him off. “I find it difficult to believe Raj can bounce back. However, despite his debacle, he still remains the more charismatic of the two brothers,” added Prakash Bal.
Many believe Uddhav’s greatest achievement is that he managed to keep the party together despite being the less charismatic and aggressive of the two leaders. Raj, said critics, displayed poor leadership in shepherding the MNS despite having Thackeray’s mannerisms and charisma. Today, both find themselves cornered and hence, there are indications that a synergy between the estranged cousins might be on the cards, especially in the civic polls.
However, the eagerness shown by both cousins to be recognised as the true inheritor of Thackeray’s legacy routinely translates into bitterness — the most recent exchange was during the Lok Sabha election campaign when Uddhav and Raj were locked in a bitter war of words about Thackeray’s last days. Raj had infamously said Uddhav was serving the late Sena chief oily batata wadas because of which he sent chicken soup to Matoshree daily.
The war of words escalated further before it subsided. But it gave enough indicators of just how deep the rift is.