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Balasaheb's Sainik vs Uddhav's Sainik

By Aditi Phadnis
July 05, 2022 11:54 IST
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The world knew who Balasaheb's Shiv Sainik was.
But who was Uddhav's Shiv Sainik?
And most importantly, why did he believe in Uddhav, and not Nitin Gadkari or Devendra Fadnavis?

IMAGE: Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray at the party headquarters, Sena Bhavan, in Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi for Rediff.com

Balasaheb Thackeray, the founder of the Shiv Sena, gave his last public speech on Vijayadashami in 2012.

It was via video conference: At 86, his body had given up on him, he was fighting for breath.

As tears ran down the cheeks of scores of Shiv Sainiks, Balasaheb made a promise: That he would never impose his son Uddhav or his grandson Aaditya on the party.

He asked party workers to abandon the Sena if they felt either Uddhav or Aaditya was being thrust on them.

He ended his speech with a gasp: 'You have looked after me. Look after Uddhav, look after Aaditya. Give importance to loyalty.'

And that's how the seal was put on the succession plan in the Sena.

His classmates and friends recall 'Dinga', Balasaheb's nickname for Uddhav, as a gentle, shy, and uncompetitive boy.

Politics would change all that.

He had to wind up his advertising business as Balasaheb advanced in age, shifting to Saamana, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece.

Inexorably, he fell deeper into the management of Sena affairs. In a way, the Sainiks propelled him there.

 

Inevitably, those who were with Balasaheb and counted themselves as Balasaheb's Shiv Sainiks, began to drift away.

Narayan Rane was one such.

In his book he notes that while his devotion to Balasaheb was blind and unquestioning, it was hard to find the same respect for Uddhav.

When the final parting of ways came, it was to Uddhav's ultimatum that Balasaheb bowed: 'Jar Rane pakshaat parat yetil, tar me ani Rashmi Matoshree sodnaar (If Rane comes back to the party, Rashmi and I will leave Matoshree)', Rane says about the final meeting with Balasaheb at which Uddhav and he were present, adding: 'Even today, I maintain my stand from 2005 that there is no future for the Sena under Uddhav's leadership. He may be a great human being, but he's a terrible leader.'

The parting from cousin Raj Thackeray was equally painful and presented a different kind of challenge.

As Uddhav rose in the party, so did a coterie: Against which there is such widespread anger today.

This consisted of Milind Narvekar, his personal secretary and the man who tried to intercede with Eknath Shinde at Surat.

Says Radheshyam Jadhav, who has written a book on Uddhav: "Narvekar, a slim man with a razor-sharp memory who always carried a licensed pistol, was so important in the Thackeray household that few dared to defy him. He was a Shiv Sainik and a resident of Malad, and was introduced to Uddhav by Gajanan Kirtikar, an MLA (now the Lok Sabha member from the Mumbai North West constituency).'

Also part of this group was Sanjay Raut, Anil Desai, Anil Parab and Neelam Gorhe.

Then came the 2014 elections.

The anxieties of the Sena at the rise of Narendra Modi were evident.

In one of his last interviews to Saamana, Balasaheb had said: 'At present, there is only one person who is intelligent, brilliant -- Sushma Swaraj.' He had added, 'I have said this many times. She would be a great choice for prime minister's post. She is a deserving, intelligent woman. She would deliver a great performance.'

Obviously, this was noted by Modi and his supporters.

Even after Balasaheb's death, Uddhav did not openly support Modi as candidate for PM, instead referring to him as a 'good friend' who had done a 'good job' as chief minister of Gujarat.

But the plot had begun unravelling.

During the assembly elections, as Amit Shah campaigned in 2014, he said: 'We made a tiger out of a rat and that tiger is now trying to scare us. But we need to show these rats their right place.'

This much is true: that all the time, Uddhav was trying to redefine the Sena.

The world knew who Balasaheb's Shiv Sainik was.

But who was Uddhav's Shiv Sainik? Which geographical area of Maharashtra did he come from? What did he believe in? Was he from the towns? Or from the villages? Or maybe both?

And most importantly, why did he believe in Uddhav, and not Nitin Gadkari or Devendra Fadnavis?

This was a work in progress as Uddhav tried to attune the Sena to the new realities of politics and alliances.

The formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi was part of this transformation of the Sena.

Uddhav's quest was to make the Sena all things to all people in Maharashtra.

But traditional Shiv Sainiks began to bitterly resent this.

For instance, there was great ferment when to the Sena slogan 'Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji', was added 'Jai Bhim'. This is just one issue.

In Maharashtra politics, for ordinary workers, the Sena began to represent a paler version of the Nationalist Congress Party and an orange rather than saffron version of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The rise of Aaditya also caused misgivings.

Aaditya sought to expand the Sena's presence on university campuses, hitherto dominated by the BJP's youth wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

In 2017, the Sena won all 10 seats on the Mumbai University Senate, defeating the ABVP. This marked a new trajectory for the party, challenging a former alliance partner.

There is hardly any doubt that Uddhav neglected the relationship between the party and himself.

But now, he has to get the reins of the organisation back.

How he does this will be interesting.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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