Is a personal, vitriolic battle between the estranged Thackeray cousins taking the focus away from real issues confronting the Marathi manoos, whose welfare, which these nativist parties claim, lies at the root of their politics?
Moreover, will this acerbic exchange between Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and MNS chief Raj Thackeray and excessive focus on emotional issues lead to problems — unavailability of affordable housing in urban centres like Mumbai, lack of jobs, costly education and agrarian distress — being neglected at the peril of these two parties?
"Shiv Sena and MNS were born due to the issues faced by the Marathi manoos like jobs, housing, and discrimination. However, these issues have been sidelined by both and replaced by talk of aukaat and who fed batata wadas and chicken soup to whom. The cousins are more interested in fighting each other," said an incensed Maharashtrian, referring to the bitter war of words in what is seen as the battle for the Thackeray legacy in the first elections after Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's death.
He pointed to how apart from unaffordable housing and delay in reconstruction of old and dilapidated buildings in Mumbai, houses in Maharashtrian-dominated areas like Parel were not being sold or let out to "non-vegetarian" Maharashtrians.
Uddhav had charged Raj of back-stabbing Bal Thackeray. In return, Raj, whose supporters project him as the true inheritor of his uncle's political legacy, alleged that the late Thackeray had been given small, oily batata wadas during his last days, which led to him (Raj) sending chicken soup from his house till he slipped into a coma. Raj said that then, Thackeray had never felt he had been back-stabbed by his nephew. The workers of the two Senas also fought a pitched street battle in South Mumbai, and despite a later lull in the sniping, things may intensify as the polling for Mumbai on April 24 nears.
"This is a personal battle. How does it benefit us? Our problems remain unaddressed," pointed out an irate Marathi manoos, listing issues like farmer suicides, lack of educational opportunities and jobs and adequate railway infrastructure in Mumbai. Critics say Sena and MNS have done little to enrich and popularise Marathi culture.
"An excessive focus on personal battles will put us at the receiving end of peoples' ire," admitted a Shiv Sena worker, a sentiment echoed by his counterparts in MNS.
"Maharashtrians have been identified too closely with Sena and MNS unlike people from other states. They (Maharashtrians) can't be evaluated on the basis of the behaviour of the two Thackerays. Such identification is wrong, but the Maharashtrians must also bear this in mind," said Dnyanesh Maharao, editor, Chitralekha (Marathi), and author of "Thackeray: Life and Style", adding that regional pride, identity politics and glorification had its limitations.
He pointed to how the Peasants and Workers Party and socialists were now in a poor shape for "neglecting problems before Maharashtrians, choosing to focus only on national issues".
However, an MNS functionary said it was untrue that they were not raising development issues and pointed to how Raj had spoken on unwed mothers, railway issues and unemployment, urban planning, development of the film industry and tourism in his rallies.
"It is natural for Maharashtrians to be angry as their problems are being neglected. The Thackeray cousins seem locked in a personal battle," said Sandeep Pradhan, political editor, Maharashtra Times, adding that the biggest problem before the Marathi manoos was the lack of affordable housing. Moreover, public sector housing authorities like Mhada had abdicated their responsibility. "Maharashtrians love Balasaheb, using his name to launch barbs at each other will not go down well," he said, adding that this internecine war would benefit Congress-NCP.