Two months after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray passed away and days before the two estranged cousins are to set out on statewide tours to generate support for their parties, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray has surprised many by hinting that he is ready for a reconciliation with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray.
“If somebody is coming with an open heart, I will welcome him,” Uddhav said in an interview to the party mouthpiece Saamna on Wednesday.
The question in state’s political circles throughout the day was: Will the two cousins finally come together?
Raj chose not to react to Uddhav’s overtures, only saying “I will speak at the right time”. His close aides said the chances of Raj responding positively to Uddhav’s remarks was minimal.
Some analysts and Sena functionaries believe the answer to the question lies in another question that Uddhav asked on Wednesday: Why did the two cousins split in the first place?
It was the tussle for supremacy in the Sena that led to Raj’s exit. “Raj’s return to the Sena seems impossible as neither cousin is likely to play second fiddle to the other. As long as a Sena-MNS alliance is concerned, there are practical difficulties. For instance, if we are contesting elections together, there will be dispute between the two parties over sharing of seats. How will it be sorted out,” asked a veteran Sena leader who did not wish to be named.
That leaves another question: Why did Uddhav say what he did (he is the editor of Saamna and decides what goes in it) just a week after he took taken over the reins of the party as its president?
“This is a purely political stunt in which he achieved two things. Firstly, he figured this is a political necessity considering he is the captain of a sinking ship. And by extending the hand of friendship, especially to Raj who is the envy of many Sainiks, he has become the good guy and his position in the party has strengthened,” said political expert Surendra Jondhale. The Sena faces a huge threat of poaching from not only the MNS but more so from the NCP and Congress at the grassroots level and this is a cause of worry for Uddhav.
Jondhale adds that Raj, shrewd politician that he is, will not fall prey to Uddhav’s move. “This is the time Raj was waiting for. He now has the scope to extend his political space after Balasaheb’s demise. He will like to lead his party autonomously,” he said.
However, political pundits do not rule out a post-poll alliance, which would be based on a common minimum programme, like they have in several local bodies.
But Raj who has carved out his own political space in Maharashtra is likely to adopt a wait-and-watch policy.