With both the Shiv Sena and its arch rival the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) deciding to project their respective leaders Uddhav Thackeray and his cousin Raj Thackeray as their chief ministerial candidates, the upcoming elections to the state legislative assembly promises to be highly interesting.
This is for the first time that anyone from the Thackeray family will be contesting an election. The late founder of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, was very clear that no one from his family would contest an election and hold official posts. That is why he himself did not occupy the chief minister's post when the Sena-BJP alliance captured power in 1995 even though it could have been his for the asking.
He first appointed Manohar Joshi as the CM and later replaced him with Narayan Rane. In fact, when he visited Mantralaya for the first time after the saffron combine formed the government, Joshi got up from the CM's chair and begged of him to occupy the chair at least for a few minutes. Thackeray Sr firmly turned down the suggestion. So vehement he was about not occupying an official position.
However, the Shiv Sena has undergone a change in the post-Balasaheb era and now the party is clear that the CM's post indeed will be occupied by Uddhav. "Both Joshi and Rane had revolted against Uddhav's leadership. While Rane crossed over to the Congress, Joshi made his resentment public before the recent elections. We have become wise after these developments and this time around, we do not wish to take any risk by backing anyone from outside the Thackeray household. Hence Uddhav will be projected for the chief minister's post. There is nothing wrong in that. We are sure that Balasaheb himself would have approved it, had he been alive," a Sena legislator told dna recently.
As for the MNS, the party does not have an organisational machinery on par with the Shiv Sena and is entirely dependent on the personality of Raj. Even though the MNS received a severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, many of its cadres are of the opinion that it will do well in the assembly polls. The party is hoping that the BJP will ditch the Shiv Sena before the assembly polls and join hands with the MNS. Sources in the MNS said the BJP is not going to let its ally, the Shiv Sena, play the big brother in the assembly polls and is going to demand a lion's share of seats.
"The BJP will use the Modi factor and demand more seats from the Shiv Sena, which the latter will not give them. In such a scenario, it will not be surprising if the BJP opts out of its alliance with the Shiv Sena. Such a decision will not have any impact on the Modi government since the BJP has a comfortable majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. In fact, this is the right time for the BJP to assert itself, especially when Balasaheb is no more and the party is well entrenched now," an MNS source reasoned. But, the Shiv Sena feels that the MNS is daydreaming if it thinks that the BJP will split with it. Senior BJP leaders like Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh are strongly committed to their party's oldest ally, the Shiv Sena.
Meanwhile, the Congress-NCP combine is unsure as to whom to project as its CM candidate. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's position is rather weak following the massive defeat suffered by the Congress. Dissident leaders like Narayan Rane are vehemently opposed to him. In the NCP, Ajit Pawar, appears to be its candidate. But, then a good deal will depend on the seat-sharing agreement which the two parties may arrive at. In fact, these two parties may play it safe by not projecting anyone as CM candidate.