As things stand, the Shiv Sena will sit in the Opposition benches of the Maharashtra assembly. Notwithstanding the possibility that Uddhav could still successfully negotiate a role for himself and the party in the BJP-led minority government, perhaps it’s time for the 54-year-old to introspect and think about what he can do differently.
Often criticised for his CEO-style of functioning, Uddhav has been in the eye of a storm ever since that September evening when the BJP ended their 25-year-old alliance. Forced to fight the assembly elections alone, the Shiv Sena returned with a haul of 63 seats. It was no ordinary feat, but the numbers were not enough, putting the party on the backfoot in the bargaining game.
Known to be mild-mannered, Uddhav thus far hasn’t been able to forcefully negotiate on behalf of his party. And considering decision-making isn’t really his strong suit, things appear to have got out of hand.
During his father’s heyday, BJP leaders would come down from Delhi to the family’s Matoshree residence in a bid to coax the angry tiger. During the NDA government’s stint in power between 1999 and 2004, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his deputy LK Advani were said to have frequently consulted Thackeray on several important issues.
But not only does Uddhav feel neglected by the BJP, he also feels humiliated for having to bend over backwards to get his message across.
Political experts feel the time has come for Uddhav to rethink, reinvent and re-package the Sena in a new avatar. For starters, he will need to get a bunch of astute advisors, take note of the changing pulse of his people and become a firm decision-maker.
Even two years since the death of its charismatic leader, Sena rallies are still packed and the energy high. This may be attributed to the party make-up. And while Sena cadres may be in sync with the new leadership approach, they still haven’t completely understood Uddhav.
He is known to be a loner. Perhaps this trait lies in the fact that he was never cut out to be a politician, but rather a wildlife photographer, who in the wilderness awaits his opportunity and captures the right shot.
Given a choice, Uddhav would have rather flown in helicopters and captured aerial shots. But fate had other ideas, making him the head of a party accustomed to being led by a fiery leader. It happened at a time when cousin Raj, seen as Bal Thackeray’s heir apparent, was entangled in the Ramesh Kini murder case.
This prompted Bal Thackeray to promote Uddhav, first as a backroom boy, and eventually as the man under whose leadership the Sena fought the 2002 civic elections. In stark contrast to his father — who wore Hindutva on his sleeve, dressed in saffron and was demi-god for his Sainiks —Uddhav, often clad in casuals and even jeans, is a more sophisticated face for the party. Under his reign, the Sainiks have almost shed their reputation for being vandals, even letting Valentine’s Day go by undisturbed.
Over the past five-six years, Uddhav has even built his own management team. He’s nudged out the old guard whom he didn’t trust and who lacked appeal – the latest victim being former chief minister Manohar Joshi.
Today, his trusted circle comprises MP Anil Desai, former legislator Subhash Desai and young turks such as MP Rahul Shewale. At the core lie wife and party advisor Rashmi and son Aaditya, the Yuva Sena chief.
Political experts consider this a major drawback. “Uddhav seems like a loner, who depends on his kitchen cabinet for inputs. Like his father, he needs to look outward, meet people from other political parties and different walks of life,” says political expert Surendra Jondhale. “He needs to understand that identity politics, which his father thrived on, won’t work and analyse why BJP and RSS, which have a strong Hindutva ideals, are muted on the subject in public.”
Others feel Uddhav’s makeover needs to start by understanding the pulse of the people. “For such a revamp, the party needs intellectual inputs, totally missing from the current team. Young people have their own aspirations. Sena does not have this vision. The vision that Uddhav put forward by consulting his kitchen cabinet was just an extravaganza. That is why he is in a fix today,” says political expert Prakash Bal .
On occasion, Uddhav has shown hints of the firmness and leadership traits his father was known for. He will need to exhibit these traits on a more regular basis if he wants to reinvent both himself and the party.