Standing outside Shiv Sena’s headquarters at Sena Bhavan in Dadar when Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s ashes were brought there, a former corporator became emotional. But when asked about the heir and party executive president Uddhav Thackeray, lines of worry creased his brow as he said out loud something which many sainiks agree upon in private: “Uddhavji shouldn’t work like the CEO of a company but as the head of a political party.”
Lots to do
As the man in charge of Shiv Sena, Uddhav is expected to have multiple challenges on hand. These include preventing migration of leaders and cadre from the party to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the (Nationalist Congress Party) NCP, developing his own leadership, creating a strong second rung, reaching out to the Sena cadre beyond his immediate circle, creating a constituency in untapped areas, connecting with the Maharashtrian youth, who are seen as gravitating to the MNS, and ensuring political success in the 2014 polls.
Sena leaders admit they need to keep the party intact and prevent desertions to the MNS, which is led by Uddhav’s estranged cousin Raj Thackeray, and to the NCP, which has an aggressive state-level and second-rung leadership.
While the MNS, which is eyeing the post-Bal Thackeray era for political expansion, is expected to be a natural choice for sainiks, the NCP has the advantage of being in power in Maharashtra, which can help dole out patronage.
Sena leaders admit that unlike his father, the soft-spoken Uddhav lacks mass appeal and charisma and is not a fiery orator, though he is more hands on than his cousin. Raj, on the contrary, who has inherited his uncle’s aggressive public mannerisms and is the archetypal Shiv sainik, is seen as Thackeray’s natural political heir.
“There are many challenges before Uddhav,” sighed a Sena insider, adding that apart from his father’s charisma, he also lacked his personal touch with sainiks. He stressed on the need for Uddhav to nurture a strong second-rung leadership within the party and ensure that the cadre had opportunities for upward mobility.
“In the previous elections, Balasaheb was ailing, but he spoke to the cadre through recorded speeches, and that did the trick. In the upcoming polls, this won’t be the case. Uddhav must launch a dialogue with sainiks, or it will be tough to sustain his leadership,” the insider said. If Uddhav managed to sustain the party in the coming polls, he would be deemed as having come into his own in politics, he added.
“Though the Shiv Sena is a political party, its success lies in the fact that it is more of an organisation at the ground level,” he said, pointing to the enviable outreach and visibility of the Sena in Mumbai through its shakhas. He said it’s must for Uddhav to be accessible to sainiks and create a fraternal bond with them, do away with coterie politics and keep the cadre charged up through various programmes.
The silver lining
Uddhav’s supporters, however, pointed out that it’s unfair to blame him for all of Sena’s failures, and added that the party will be in power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation till 2017, which will help keep its flock together.
The Sena source said Uddhav’s strong points lay in the new rainbow coalition that he had forged with Dalit leader Ramdas Athavale’s Republican Party of India. “Though he may try to secularise Sena, the challenge lies in keeping the core constituency (of Marathi manoos which is being poached by others) intact,” he added.
In the 2014 polls, Uddhav faces the challenge of expanding the Sena’s base and coming to power in the state. Technically, the BJP is the larger partner in the saffron alliance today with more members and leaders of opposition in both houses of the legislature.
“Raj and the NCP are among the biggest challenges before the Sena. Many Sena leaders, such as Chhagan Bhujbal, Bhaskar Jadhav, Ganesh Naik and Kiran Pawaskar, are now with the NCP,” said the source, adding that it was tough for a Sena man to adjust to life within the Congress. On the contrary, the NCP, which has an aggressive leadership and a young worker’s profile had a character similar to the Sena and hence, was a more natural port of call for disgruntled sainiks.
The MNS, however, is confident of further desertions from within Sena’s ranks towards it. “Further splits are inevitable,” claimed a senior MNS leader. He said that to prevent that, Uddhav must reach out to people. “There are people who did not quit the Sena just because Balasaheb was alive. It will be a problem if Uddhav does not accommodate them,” he said.
“The main challenge will be to develop his leadership. Except a few leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal, no one quit the Sena because of differences with Balasaheb,” said NCP MLC Kiran Pawaskar who quit after 27 years in Sena. “Desertions, including that of Raj, were due to their differences with Uddhav and his men.”
“People will be drawn towards Raj as well as Pawar saheb (Sharad Pawar) and Ajitdada (Pawar),” said Pawaskar, claiming that Sena cadre may also join the NCP. “Wait and watch for two months.”
Not written off
However, a senior BJP leader from Mumbai said that it would not be correct for Sena’s dissidents to write its political obit immediately. “Balasaheb’s death and subsequent events, like the large crowd at the funeral, show that a massive strength has been created in Uddhav’s favour at the organisational level,” he said.
He added that Thackeray Sr’s swansong during the Dussehra rally where he asked the Marathi manoos to stand by Uddhav and grandson Aditya had struck an emotional chord. “Uddhav has seen worse days, for example, when Narayan Rane and Raj quit,” the BJP leader said, adding that Uddhav had been in-charge of the Sena for a few years and knew its nuts and bolts in the state, but concerns were being raised about his health after his surgeries. He also pointed out that despite the media frenzy around him, Raj had failed to take issues raised by him to their logical end.
Academician-activist Pushpa Bhave, a trenchant critic of Sena’s politics, however, pointed out that there will be attempts by other parties to woo Sena’s constituency and said that though the Sena and BJP were in an alliance, the power balance needed to be watched.
“After Balasaheb’s death, there has been a sympathy wave towards the Sena in some sections. On the other hand, people are doubtful about what Uddhav will do next,” she said.
“Apart from tackling the Raj Thackeray phenomenon, Uddhav’s first challenge will be to reorganise and revitalise the Sena,” said Surendra Jondhale, professor and head of the Civics and Politics department at the University of Mumbai.
“He needs to mobilise the masses in rural Maharashtra if the Sena wants to expand beyond Mumbai and Thane,” Jondhale pointed out. And for this, Jondhale said, he needs to identify new political and economic issues apart from Marathi and Hindutva.
“The Sena and MNS are influential in urban areas, but the NCP is also making inroads. It’s trying to capture urban sectors and hence, the Sena can’t take the urban voters for granted,” he said.