When Raj Thackeray rushed to his ailing cousin’s side, and when Sena leader Uddhav returned the gesture by backing MNS’ morcha, tongues were set wagging. Have the warring cousins decided to bury the hatchet?
Dhaval Kulkarni looks at whether the two will join forces for the 2014 elections.
Outside the headquarters of the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), a senior Sena leader from Central Mumbai looks pensive. “Any patch-up between the Thackeray cousins will be a game changer in the  general elections,” he predicts. “But, will such a thing really happen?”
A senior Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) functionary from the western suburbs says many in the party want an end to the hostility between their leader, Raj Thackeray, and Shiv Sena’s executive president Uddhav Thackeray. “Joining hands may make it easier for us to gain power.”
After Raj, who quit the Sena in 2006 to form the MNS and who has emerged as its most potent threat, joined his estranged cousin, Uddhav, at his sick bed in July at the Lilavati Hospital, political circles have been abuzz with speculation on whether the two warring cubs will bury the hatchet and join hands.
Grasping at straws?
There are some who argue that the straws in the wind — Raj rushing to Uddhav’s side at the time of his illness and sending a bouquet of flowers to him on his 52nd birthday as well the support shown by Uddhav and the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, to Raj’s morcha against the August 11 riots — indicate that a patch-up is on the cards before the 2014 polls.
Others, however, rule out such a reunion on the grounds that the bone of contention over which of the two Thackerays would become the numero uno leader is still unresolved and that too many frayed egos are at stake despite indications of a thaw in their personal relationships. Moreover, they argue, Raj, who enjoys a large following among the youth and women and who pitches himself as a natural successor to his uncle, is pinning his hopes on a migration of Sena cadre and voters to him in the post-Bal Thackeray era.
Another senior Sena leader argues, “Both are still bitter with each other. The question is who will take a step backwards. It may seem, superficially, that there has been a thaw in their relationships, but the bitterness runs deep.” He, however, quickly adds that although the Sainiks and the MNS cadre are rooting for a reunion, the coterie around the two cousins may hinder any patch-up to keep their positions intact.
“It is necessary to remember why they had to go their separate ways. Raj did not get what he wanted in the Shiv Sena. So, what is the point in them coming together again?” says a Shiv Sena leader, who switched over from the MNS, categorically. “But, the duo may come together after the 2014 elections. Politics is very unpredictable.”
Surendra Jondhale, professor and head of the department of civics and politics at the University of Mumbai, says there is no reason to read much into the Thackerays’ recent gestures. “Raj is trying to consolidate his mass base for the post-Bal Thackeray era as he does not feel that Uddhav will be a political rival to him [in that phase].”
“The ground reality is that a Shiv Sena and MNS alliance is not possible… in terms of coming together before the polls or of Raj rejoining the Sena,” he adds.
Jondhale says there is no “political unanimity” between the Sena-BJP-RPI alliance and the MNS. “The BJP has, in fact, criticised Raj’s anti-Bihari tirade.”
He says there is a difference between the two cousins’ agenda — Uddhav stresses on Hindutva and Raj on his party’s regional and Maharashtrian identity.
Spark of hope
To former Shiv Sainik Satish Valanju, the signs of thawing of frosty ties are probably a vindication of the public campaign he had started with his friends — Mazi Chalval, Mee Maharashtracha — to unite Uddhav and Raj before the civic elections held this February in Mumbai and Thane.
“In 2014, the two will have to come together. Any political party is formed to seize power. When it is clear that power cannot be obtained by only one of them… the Sena and MNS will have to join hands… You have to keep your folks together. Without power, this is impossible,” he reasons.
“Our movement (Mazi Chalval, Mee Maharashtracha) said a dialogue between the two had to begin after which a solution would come forth. Now, the [process of] dialogue has begun,” beams Valanju, even as he points out that “blood is thicker than water”.
In an exclusive interview to DNA, Uddhav indicates that it is necessary for both the parties to think about the issue of reconciliation. “Both sides must think about this issue. What can I alone say?” he asks.
However, a Sena functionary says there is resentment among some partymen on Raj gaining positive mileage during Uddhav’s recent illness. “Any rapprochement depends on how circumstances shape up in future,” is all he adds.
An MNS functionary points out if a pre-poll allliance is worked out, the sharing of seats in Sena strongholds like Mahim and Sewri, where the MNS has made inroads, could prove troublesome. Moreover, MNS leaders admit that their party organisation is weaker than that of the Sena — which saw them end up with a less-than-expected seat tally in the BMC polls.
Working out a formula
Regardless of obstacles to the patch-up, Sena and MNS leaders say the coming together of the cousins will be the saffron alliance’s best shot at grabbing power in 2014. “Any understanding will help us take issues to their logical conclusion. We will be able to get more people elected and activists, too, can gain power,” says an MNS leader. He warns that some functionaries, though, are likely to oppose a joint alliance if they feel that such a move will hurt their interests.
“As of now, we have not evolved any formula for the coming together, but personal bitterness between the two has reduced,” admits a senior Shiv Sena MP.
Another MP says “an invisible compromise before the polls was the best way out” of seat-sharing issues and problems that the BJP may face in national politics. “There are ways and means of doing it.”
Another senior Shiv Sena MP, however, disagrees. He says a post-poll understanding with the MNS will be more feasible. “It, of course, depends on how the situation shapes up.”
Despite BJP leaders’s public display of bravado over the need for the MNS to be included in the saffron alliance, party leaders admit that the merging is easier said than done as the move will have adverse repercussions on their fortunes in northern states due to the MNS’ anti-migrant stance.
A senior state BJP leader says political rivalry between the two cousins may see each trying to upstage the other in future. He, however, doesn’t rule out post-poll alliances or clandestine seat adjustments, saying taking the MNS on board is not the sole formula to ensure the saffron alliance’s success in 2014.