Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death has set the stage for a political realignment in the state. Mainstream parties like the Congress, NCP and BJP will now be set to exploit the differences between the Shiv Sena and MNS ahead of the 2014 state assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The possibility of a merger between the Sena and MNS that could not take place in Balasaheb’s lifetime appears slim as the issues between warring cousins Uddhav and Raj have still not been settled. In fact, events of the last fortnight when Sena leaders made concerted attempts to reassert their political might over the MNS further exposed the cracks between the two Thackeray heirs.
A cautious MNS chief Raj Thackeray exercised caution and pledged to give a befitting reply at the appropriate time. Maharashtra politics poised for realignment From p1 Old Sena guards who have closely worked with Balasaheb admit privately that “the biggest challenge for the Sena will be to reassure the cadre about the Uddhav's leadership ability."
While Uddhav can bank on the organisational strength to keep his flock together, Raj can exercise his charisma to win over confused cadre. Ever since its foundation in June 19, 1966, Bal Thackeray firmly held the reins of the Sena. But his personal charisma — that has no parallel in state or national politics — could prove detrimental to his successor.
Uddhav's efforts to usher a phase of collective leadership in policy making may not hold the same appeal to the Sena rank and file that pledged a lifetime's support to Balasaheb the individual, and not necessarily to the organisation.
Always critical about the Sena's politics, the RSS and BJP will take the opportunity to dominate the alliance in the state and Centre. While the Sena may have held the cash-rich BMC for the last 15 years, its strength in the 288-member state assembly has dwindled to 45 MLAs. The BJP is ahead in terms of numbers and leadership when it comes to making an impact in the legislature.
To what extent Uddhav will be able to rejuvenate the cadre to streetsmart politics in the absence of his father needs to be seen. With the senior Thackeray out of the picture, the BJP may like to keep the Sena on tenterhooks by keeping its options for an alliance with the MNS open.
From BJP president Nitin Gadkari to the party's deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde, there have been calls for “mahauti” (greater alliance) between the Sena, BJP, MNS and RPI. Poised to fight the next elections separately following a lack of trust coupled with political one-upmanship, the Congress and NCP will walk the extra mile to enter into some kind of a covert understanding with one of the Thackeray cousins to consolidate their parties and also make space for regional forces.
In 1999, when NCP president Sharad Pawar parted ways with the Congress, his strategy was to wean away young turks in the Sena to his side. But his calculations misfired. Ever since, the NCP has kept its options for an alignment with the Sena open in order to make the Congress vulnerable. Former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar who is facing challenges within his own party often talks of a non-Congress government if the NCP emerges as the single-largest party in the 2014 elections.
In 2009, successive Congress chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan worked to consolidate the MNS to ensure the division of Marathi votes in Mumbai. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has embarked on the same political strategy.