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Poet, football fan, modern: Aaditya Thackeray rises to Shiv Sena’s core leadership

Bal Thackeray’s grandson who speaks for the aspirations of the middle class is promoted to the core leadership team of his party.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2018 22:47 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Shiv Sena,Aaditya Thackeray,Bal Thackeray
Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray (in blue shirt) inaugurates a cycling track in Mumbai on December 3, 2017.(Bhushan Koyande/ HT file photo)

Tuesday was a big day for the Shiv Sena, and its newest Neta (leader) as it terms members of the party’s core leadership team. That was the day the national executive of the part effectively signalled the Siv Sena’s inclination to detach itself from the National Democratic Alliance, a grouping headed by its long-time ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, with which it shares several aspects of its ideology. And that was the day it selected the 27-year old scion of the Thackeray family, Aaditya Thackeray as a Neta.

Not that this was a surprise. Thackeray’s ascension was a given because of his surname. If there was any doubt, it was assuaged in 2010 when his grandfather, the late Bal Thackeray formally named a generation next leader of the party.

With his naming as Neta, Thackeray is set to become undisputed number two in the party after his father Uddhav Thackeray. Other leaders in the core team include former chief minister Manohar Joshi and Subhash Desai, Diwakar Raote and Anant Geete.

In October 2010, Bal Thackeray introduced his grandson to a sea of loyalists gathered at the party’s annual Dasara rally in Shivaji Park by giving him a symbolical sword. Amid criticism of dynasty politics, the then 21-year-old Thackeray was given a readymade platform in the party, as head of its new youth wing, the Yuva Sena. Seen as a grouping of the Thackeray scion, and his friends, mostly sons of other Sena leaders, the youth wing was not taken too seriously in the beginning.

A rangoli of late Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray to mark his birth anniversary in Mumbai . ( Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo )

To his credit, over the past seven years, Thackeray, who is also a poet and an avid football fan, has managed to create a niche for himself and find acceptance in the party.

He has also changed the texture of the party by bringing a contemporary, modern, urban middle class touch to it. He often voices concerns of aspirational middle class and the upper middle class urban citizens--not the typical remit of a Sena leader.

“Aaditya is now known in party for ushering in a much needed modern perspective in our organisation as well as to our campaigning methods. He has a good connection with young people, which we were missing for sometime. He also campaigned extensively for the civic polls in the state last year and cut his teeth by handling election rallies on his own. He is ready for the next step” said a senior Sena leader who did not want to be named.

The leader admitted that in the initial years, not many within the party took Thackeray seriously. “How do you take 21 year old seriously ? But in the last seven years, he has found his footing.”

In the past few years, Thackeray has pushed for policies such as 24/7 Mumbai to keep the city’s nightlife going beyond an inordinately early curfew. He has also built a reputation for himself as someone who managed to get international football to the city by improving the sports infrastructure.

Barring an early campaign to ban prize winning author, Rohington Mistry’s book ‘Such a Long Journey’ from the Mumbai University curriculum, Thackeray has refrained from using his party’s traditional bullying tactics or voicing a hard-line agenda. In recent years he has completely shut down his party’s opposition to Valentine’s Day.

Fluent in English, unlike his father or uncle, Raj Thackeray, the Thackeray scion has led delegations of his party with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and acquired a social media personality of his own – especially by criticizing his party’s ally.

“The timing for this elevation is right because Aaditya Thackeray can connect with young people ahead of the elections. Currently, Sena has lost its youth support. He may however have to change his political language and dilute his urbaneness to make a connection with rural youth,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

Unlike his charismatic grandfather and uncle, and much like his father, Thackeray is not a good orator. People don’t throng to the Sena meetings to hear him speak. However, he uses social media to reach his desired support base. He has also not shown any understanding about issues concerning rural Maharashtra, especially the agrarian crisis. Sena leaders hope that he will start paying attention to this aspect as well.

Thackeray’s formal promotion ahead of the 2019 assembly and parliamentary polls, seen as among the toughest polls for the Sena in recent times, is a clear signal to the party cadre that the scion is ready to lead from the front. That it comes along with an announcement of the party going it alone is significant.

First Published: Jan 23, 2018 18:50 IST