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How far will Shiv Sena go under Uddhav’s leadership?

Thackeray was made working president of the party in 2003 and later took over as party chief after his father died in November 2012.

mumbai Updated: Jan 23, 2018 00:26 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Uddhav Thackeray, 57, is set to be formally re-elected as Shiv Sena chief on Tuesday.
Uddhav Thackeray, 57, is set to be formally re-elected as Shiv Sena chief on Tuesday.(HT File)

Uddhav Thackeray, 57, is set to be formally re-elected as Shiv Sena chief on Tuesday in a meeting of the party’s national executive to be held on birth anniversary of Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

A wildlife photographer turned politician, Thackeray was made working president of the party in 2003 and later took over as party chief after his father died in November 2012. Since then, he led the party to success in 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections and 2017 Mumbai civic polls.

There have been arguments whether the Sena was victorious in these elections or it got limited success and had to compromise for power. However, the fact remains that the party is a ruling partner in the central and state governments and has retained power in Mumbai civic body.

Contrary to the predictions that the Sena would disintegrate slowly following senior Thackeray’s death, Uddhav managed to keep his flock together and retained political significance of the Sena especially at a time when several prominent parties were finding it difficult to counter the BJP in elections.

This is in sharp contrast with 2005-06 when the dissent in the Shiv Sena came to the fore after senior Thackeray made it clear that Uddhav would be his political heir. Then, it was assumed that his cousin Raj would prove to be a better leader than him. Raj had the charisma and the style to head a party like Sena while Uddhav lacked both. However, Thackeray himself saw to it that Uddhav took over and built his team. Uddhav kept a low profile and took complete control of the party.

Little wonder when both NarayanRane and Raj quit the Sena, it did lose some people but the core team running the party remained intact and majority of sainiks stuck to the party. Still there were doubts over Uddhav’s ability to lead the party in elections.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Party’s success and Sena’s defeat in the 2009 assembly elections further fueled this talk. That got finally settled in assembly elections of 2014 and Mumbai civic polls in 2017.

Ahead of 2014 assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to discontinue the nearly two decades old alliance as the Sena remained adamant on not conceding certain assembly seats to the former. The impact of Modi wave was still visible. Uddhav however chose to take on the resurgent BJP. His party did not put up a spectacular performance but it did impress by winning 63 seats – one of the reasons why the BJP could not reach the magic figure of 145 to win a simple majority in Maharashtra assembly. It fell short of 23 and ultimately had to take Sena on board for a stable government in a traditionally Congress-ruled state.

Most in the Sena lament that the party got a raw deal as the BJP gave less significant portfolios for its ministers (The BJP on the other hand insists that it just needed 15-20 MLAs to win simple majority and by that standard whatever is given to the Sena is adequate).

The party is divided over sticking to the BJP or strongly pitching for the Opposition space. Uddhav on his part, seems to be biding his time. At the same time, he is trying to stake claim for the Opposition space by constantly criticising the BJP—often more than the opposition parties like Congress.

So where does the Sena go from here? Can it do better under Uddhav in the coming years? Can it go beyond 60-70 assembly seats and win power on its own?

Unlike other regional parties such as Trinamool Congress or Telugu Desam Party or DMK-AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and SP-BSP in UP, the Sena has not been able to win power on its own. It could not do so when Thackeray was around.

Will Uddhav manage to do it? As he begins his second term as party chief, this is something that will be on top of his agenda. Does he have the ability to take the Sena there? It remains to be seen.