Shiv Sena is now a willing lamb to the slaughter | Opinion
With less than two weeks to go for the elections to the Maharashtra Assembly, the Congress is in a stupor, while the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is still in battle mode. But the Shiv Sena has already gone out of the fight almost completely. I would scarce have believed in Bal Thackeray’s time that the Sena tiger would so willingly turn into a lamb and allow itself to be led to the slaughter without even a mewl or bleat in protest, just forget about Thackeray’s raging roars.
I am told by Shiv Sainiks in the know that BJP president Amit Shah conned Uddhav Thackeray into promoting his son Aaditya as an understudy to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis – like MK Stalin was to his father M Karunanidhi or Rahul Gandhi was to his mother Sonia Gandhi. That would help to groom him to eventually take over as chief minister, Uddhav was told.
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But in falling for that trick, Uddhav has not seen the pitfalls – who knows when the Shiv Sena will ever be in a position to form the government and gets its own chief minister? I now tend to think that would be never because while Uddhav might think he has managed a reasonable share of the seats – almost as much as the NCP got from the Congress – the BJP has denied the party any seats in major cities like Navi Mumbai, Nashik, Nagpur et al, immediately restricting its growth in any of these regions. Many Shiv Sainiks have quit, there is unrest among many others and the party is unlikely to recover from this setback.
But the greater blow this election season is to the image of the Thackerays and their hitherto tight control over their party. Becoming an understudy to a BJP chief minister is no guarantee of succession, unlike a Stalin or Rahul who were expected to take over from a parent. But the higher admission in wanting to run Aaditya Thackeray for the Assembly is that the famed remote control of his grandfather has run out of battery – Aaditya now has to get up from the air-conditioned comfort of his corner and physically press the buttons himself. Time was when all Bal Thackeray had to do was pick up the landline beside him and dial either Sharad Pawar or Vasantdada Patil and these mighty chief ministers bent to his will. But that illusion of formidability was destroyed by one of their own – Manohar Joshi – who became the chief minister when the Sena came to power in 1995. What was seen as Thackeray’s diktat to the powerful Congress chief minister was seen under the same circumstances as pleading with his own supporter. For it was Joshi who had to ultimately accomplish the task and he was not beyond playing his own games and impressing upon the Shiv Sainiks that the ultimate power centre lay with him and not Bal Thackeray.
Uddhav rightly spotted Joshi’s sophistry and has sidelined him over the years, but the damage has been irrevocable. The Thackerays find that having their men in the government is of no consequence because they may or may not listen to the boss. Even if they do, grassroots supporters see that as obligation and not strength. So it is better to be part of the government than outside it, which leaves the Thackerays as good or no different than any other politician and takes away their USP altogether – the remote control that turns on and off the power, but does not chase power per se.
How weak the Shiv Sena has gotten even before the elections was also on display by the pusillanimity of both Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray over the overnight cutting of trees in the Aarey forest last week to make way for a Metro shed. All they could do was tweet and wring hands helplessly when at one time Shiv Sainiks would have flooded the streets and prevented the municipal workers from axing the trees. Instead, Uddhav promised action after their government came to power – what about their man being the minister for environment in the current government? And all Aaditya could do was mouth some weak sentiments about how this was unforgivable, quite overlooking the fact that his party rules the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and it was they who had ordered the trees to be cut. Only goes to prove the point that the Thackerays have lost hold of the remote control and are desperately trying to replace the batteries with themselves.
Bal Thackeray would never recognise the party he left behind barely seven years ago.