Uddhav Thackeray has his timing right
“It is clear now that Uddhav Thackeray has far more staying power than Raj Thackeray who has self-destructed and virtually finished his own party quite by himself.”mumbai Updated: Feb 07, 2018 01:21 IST
Many years ago, while he was president of the Maharashtra unit of the BJP, I had been chatting with Nitin Gadkari up at a party thrown by a mutual friend when he received a call from Uddhav Thackeray. He took the call but later curled his nose and told me rather disparagingly that the then working president of the Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray was alive at the time) was just clueless about politics. “He wants to discuss electoral adjustments now! Is this the time for it?”
Uddhav, however, seems to be getting his timing absolutely right so far as the BJP is concerned. He also appears to be far more rooted in realpolitik than Gadkari gave him credit for. In that same conversation, Gadkari had said his party would far prefer to do business with Raj Thackeray but, unfortunately, Balasaheb had made the choice - the wrong choice - and they were stuck with Uddhav.
I, contrarily, tend to think Thackeray did make the right choice. It is clear now that Uddhav has far more staying power than his cousin who has self-destructed and virtually finished his own party quite by himself. Today, he is of no consequence to anybody, including the BJP, except as an occasional nuisance and emotional blackmailer.
Uddhav, on the other hand, is startling all by the new — rather unlikely — friends he is making. Earlier, it was West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and now Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu who recently called him up purportedly to make common cause in their angst against the BJP. They seem as disparate as chalk and cheese but Uddhav seems to have perfected the art of eating his cake and having it too and I am sure both Mamata and Chandrababu are in search of tips on how to survive the onslaught of the BJP which Uddhav has done quite creditably.
Critics have slammed the Shiv Sena for its alleged hypocrisy in continuing in the government while giving notice that it will go it alone at the next polls. But I believe Uddhav has once again got his timing just right — the BJP has enough time to cajole and persuade the Shiv Sena. But if it does not do so, the Sena has ample time to activate its grassroots and maximise its gains.
When Uddhav expressed his hurt this week that the Sena had helped the BJP reach its goals but the BJP was hell bent upon destroying his party, I wondered, though, what had taken him so long to realise that fact. For years, younger leaders in the BJP, like Gopinath Munde and Gadkari, who otherwise disagreed on just about everything, were of one view that the Sena was not really helping the BJP grow in Maharashtra and their party needed to strike out on its own to expand its base in the state. But they were always reined in by senior leader LK Advani, not only because he had much regard for Bal Thackeray but also because he didn’t want to risk losing seats in his bid for prime ministership by divorcing the Shiv Sena at the wrong time. The writing on the wall should have been clear when Advani and the older stalwarts were sidelined and denied any say in party affairs.
But why, unlike Mamata and Naidu, Uddhav is at low risk in defying or splitting with the BJP is also because of the peculiar demographics of its voter base which is mostly Maharashtrian in Bombay while the Gujaratis mostly lean towards the BJP, all other communities fairly divided between all parties. Two elections — the 2014 assembly and 2017 Brihanmumbai Corporation polls — have amply proved that both parties do far better going it alone than contesting together. The reverse is true of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party which, after staying apart for too long, may finally come together ahead of the 2019 polls.
The Sena’s confidence, however, seems to be based on the tacit support it has been receiving from NCP chief Sharad Pawar and there are fair indications that there will be unofficial arrangements between the parties opposed to the BJP to make it as difficult for the ruling party to win as many seats as it did during 2014. If the Sena is really working on this arrangement, it is only being true to its founder’s spirit — Bal Thackeray always preferred the Congress to the BJP and facilitated the former’s victory on many occasions though that unholy alliance was always clandestine. His extreme positions on both region and religion rendered him persona-non-grata not just among secular forces — at one time he was too extreme for even the BJP. But Uddhav today seems far more acceptable to the mainstream parties, under pressure from the ruling dispensation. As usual, he has got his timing right.