Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray turns 57 today, where is he headed?
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Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray turns 57 today, where is he headed?

The party, known as one of the country’s most vociferous regional outfits under his father Bal Thackeray’s leadership, is now being dwarfed in its own home state by the BJP

mumbai Updated: Jul 27, 2017 13:03 IST
Manasi Phadke
Manasi Phadke
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Shiv Sena,Uddhav Thackeray
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray greets his party workers at Matoshree.(SATISH BATE/HT)

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray who celebrates his 57th birthday on Thursday has a lot to prove over the next two years, before he touches 60.

His party, known as one of the country’s strongest and most vociferous regional outfits under his father Bal Thackeray’s leadership, is now being dwarfed in its own home state by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political ambitions. It has lost its political edge over the BJP in Maharashtra.

Moreover, the Sena’s vote bank in Maharashtra is directly under threat from its bitter ally, a glimpse of which was seen during the February election to the Mumbai civic body when the BJP emerged just two seats short of the Sena.

The Sena cadre is restless within the BJP-led Maharashtra government, of which the Shiv Sena is a part, and is itching to get even with the BJP in the state. Meanwhile, Thackeray’s party is battling ample flak for sharing power with the BJP despite its differences with the party and its constant bitter criticism of the government.

Amid this political environment, Thackeray is trying to build an independent identity for the Sena, and is preparing to lead his troops into the 2019 state assembly election with a view to halt the BJP’s electoral strides in Maharashtra.

Read: How the polite, shy Uddhav Thackeray made the Shiv Sena roar

While political analysts believe the Shiv Sena will emerge much stronger out of the situation if Thackeray assertively decides to snap ties with the BJP for good and walk out of the government, the leader is aware that mid-term polls will not bode too well for his party at the moment.

Biding time till 2019, Thackeray has consciously positioned his party as an opposition within the government, while maintaining a bitter-sweet relationship with the BJP. He has been focusing on strengthening his party in rural Maharashtra, traditionally a stronghold of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), with frequent visits to rural districts and interaction with voters there.

The party is taking up issues such as farmers’ crisis and agricultural land acquisition for the chief minister’s pet Mumbai-Nagpur expressway that concern the mass electorate.

Meanwhile, Thackeray, who has undergone an angioplasty, is also tasked with the challenge of building up his son, 27-year-old Aaditya Thackeray, as the next potential leader of the party. The Thackeray scion is always given a prominent place on the dais at all Sena functions, while his photograph hangs adjacent to Bal Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray’s pictures in the offices of even the senior most Sena leaders and ministers. However,so far, Aaditya Thackeray’s influence in the party has been limited to establishing a connect with young urban voters, taking up issues such as open spaces, education, nightlife and football.

Read: Hot and cold: Decoding the Shiv Sena’s rocky relationship with the BJP in Maharashtra

A large span of Uddhav Thackeray’s political career has been marked by doubts and challenges. He has braced challenges right from when Bal Thackeray named his polite, soft-spoken son over as the Sena’s successor over his charismatic and aggressive nephew Raj Thackeray to when the Sena founder died leaving the party’s ropes single-handedly in Uddhav’s hands.

Metamorphosing from a shy, reticent youth more interested in photography and wildlife than active politics to a strong, forceful leader of a 50-year-old bellicose party, Uddhav Thackeray has more than silenced his critics over the years. However, the leader is at a juncture when he faces what is perhaps the biggest challenge in his political career until now in battling the zealous, resourceful and hungry BJP, which is eyeing the Sena’s pie.

How Thackeray steers his party over the next two years and performs in the 2019 assembly election will be the next test of his mettle.

First Published: Jul 27, 2017 13:03 IST