As Uddhav Thackeray consolidates his hold over the Shiv Sena, conflict within the ranks seems inevitable, says Neeta Kolhatkar.
This weekend marks the first death anniversary of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray. During the year gone by, a lot has happened and a lot of simmering has taken place within the ranks and files of the party. However, much more fireworks are expected within the party.
The Shiv Sena has been quiet for too long now -- and in the political arena, every moment spent is vital for the next dynamic to unfold.
Personally speaking, the decision to name the press box at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium as Balasaheb Thackeray Press Box came as a surprise. Rather, it is more like rubbing salt into a sore wound.
Thackeray was someone who openly challenged freedom of the press, wanted to gag many a television channel, would defend the attacks by his dear Sainiks on any media house, encouraged his supporters to take action against his media opponents like Nikhil Wagle. The press box, meant for cricket journalists, has sanctity, like the press sections in the Maharashtra assembly or such institutions.
A fourth pillar of democracy, no surprise that Thackeray despised modern media like the way he despised modern Indian politics.
I can never forget and forgive the way he called upon Sainiks to vandalise the Wankhede pitch on January 6, 1999, as a protest against scheduling a match against Pakistan in Mumbai. That time I was working with a Hindi television channel when we learnt that Shiv Sainiks had invaded the Wankhede pitch and damaged it.
Worse still, they had barged into the old office of the Board of Control of Cricket in India and totally ransacked it. Much worse, they had damaged the 1983 World Cup trophy that our very Indian cricketers had toiled hard to win. It was the day cricket died in my heart, what a shameful day it was! It was heart-wrenching to see the trophy thrown on the stairs by Shiv Sainiks who really did more harm than they could have imagined the for nation’s pride.
Interestingly, all these acts were conducted under the cover of national pride, because the National Democratic Alliance government (of which the Shiv Sena is a part) had allowed the Pakistan cricket team to play in India. After all these traumatic events, the fact that the BCCI and the Mumbai Cricket Association have renamed the press box after Thackeray leaves me confused whether the move is an insult to the press or Thackeray.
To think that the remote-control loving leader despised all that the Nehru-Gandhi family indulged in like building statues, naming public places and structures after their family members, while the same is being done by his son, does seem perturbing.
In fact the statue and memorial park in Thackeray’s name has become a sad circus, as all political parties compete for the credit along with the Shiv Sena rank and file. The fact is that it is again going to be a day of flexing muscle, a time for Thackeray’s son and executive president Uddhav to send a message to the people that he is 'in control'.
The last one year hasn’t been all that easy for Uddhav, who too has gone through various health issues. As a result, he has been grooming his young son Aditya to rejuvenate the party. Again here one sees a contradiction to what the senior Thackeray criticised the Nehru-Gandhis for -- dynastic politics. Here the third generation Thackeray is ready to take on the party reins soon.
Many suspected and speculated that Uddhav’s leadership would be rejected and one would see a mass exodus from the party. However, it is too early to say this as post his health issues, Uddhav has had to deal with the Sena old guard. Not many have left the party, as he may have wanted, and he often showed that he preferred a public rebuttal to them than a face-off. Eventually conflict within the ranks seems to be inevitable. Unlike his father who listened to the person on the ground, Uddhav has his own core team of trusted family members and friends who are seen to have their own agendas.
The Thackeray cousins have been pitted against one another. As Raj Thackeray was forced to quit the Sena and float his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, he will not give up his bargaining power and merge his party with the Sena so easily.
The MNS chief has managed to finish off the Sena in its own turf in Dadar and will make an impact in other Sena-dominated areas in the next elections. The changing demographics of Mumbai, coupled with the changing voting patterns, is likely to impact the Sena voter percentage too. Now that people have begun accepting the eventual passing away of Bal Thackeray, the challenge for the leadership too has started. It is never going to be easy for the current crop of leaders to carry on his legacy.
The voter rightfully will be testing and trying, because they have been used to a strong ideology that they were given to believe in . Right now both the ideology and direction seem as scattered as the number of leaders.
While the next six months will be important as far as the dynamics within the Shiv Sena is concerned, the changing equations between the party and the Bharatiya Janata Party will also become clearer. Close aides of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi are keeping a close watch on the Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Image: A file photograph of Bal Thackeray with Uddhav.