The controversy sparked by an editorial in "Saamna", the mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena, could result in a shakeup within the party, with Uddhav Thackeray likely to "cut to size" leaders who are out of line.
"After this, Uddhavji may cut some people to size... to ensure that there is no challenge to his leadership," said a party source. Uddhav is holidaying abroad and things will be clear when he returns from his sojourn early next week.
"This is the right time for him (Uddhav) to consolidate his leadership," said a senior party leader.
The editorial in "Saamna", published on Maharashtra Day (May 1), criticized Gujaratis and the trading community that have rallied behind the BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, exploiting Mumbai to generate wealth for themselves and raised questions about their sense of belonging to Mumbai and Maharashtra.
Uddhav is editor of "Saamna" and Sanjay Raut, Rajya Sabha MP and the party's spokesperson, is executive editor.
Raut's associates claim that he was voicing the unease among Maharashtrians, who are the core base of the party, over the increasing clout of the Gujaratis, especially after the rise of Modi on the national stage. However, the political fallout alarmed some party leaders.
While the Maharashtrians are divided between the Shiv Sena and the the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, North Indians view the Sena with suspicion because of its sons of the soil agenda. In this situation, some Sena leaders argue that the party would have to depend on Gujaratis, who are largely BJP supporters, to shore up their voter base. This is particularly so in the context that the city and the periphery has undergone a demographic change, with the Maharashtrians being forced to move out of major pockets in an overheated real estate market.
Uddhav immediately distanced himself from the editorial in what was seen as an apparent snub to Raut. On Sunday, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray stated that the editorial did not lash out at anybody, and he accused the media of "twisting" the contents.
On Tuesday, "Saamna" published a statement by Aaditya (a collection of his tweets) underlining the "bond" between the Gujaratis in Mumbai and the Sena and he added that the party did not endorse the views expressed in the editorial.
Party sources said Aaditya may have been prompted to issue the comments due to the involvement of Gujarati youth in the Yuva Sena.
"Balasaheb always spoke against the danger of excessive and unnecessary democracy in the Sena," the party source pointed out. Uddhav is seen as being soft-spoken and affable. Now, he could use the opportunity to strengthen his leadership.
Meanwhile, Raut told dna that he "agreed with the clarification" issued by Uddhav. "I am in agreement with the stance taken by the Shiv Sena party president... as a leader of the party and the (executive) editor," Raut said over telephone from Moscow, where he is on holiday.
"I will not oppose his stand. We have been co-ordinating well with each other since the days of Balasaheb Thackeray," Raut said.
He also dismissed reports that senior leaders Subhash Desai and Leeladhar Dake, who are trustees of Prabodhan Prakshan which publishes "Saamna", had been appointed by the party leadership to oversee the editorial functioning. Desai is also the publisher of the newspaper.
"Saamna" was launched in 1988, with Bal Thackeray as editor and Ashok Padbidri as executive editor. The "Dopahar Ka Saamna", a Hindi daily, came five years later.