'I am trying to make the political system more answerable to the people,' Aaditya Thackeray tells Mumbai's youth...
Rediff.com's Hemant Waje listens in.
Videos: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
"I don't have a job. There is no one in my family to earn. What should I do? Mi nahi vote karnar (I will not vote)," a disabled man tells Aaditya Thackeray, who heads the Shiv Sena's Yuva Sena, at an interactive programme Aaditya Sanvad in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election in Mumbai.
Aimed to target the youth and first time voters, Aaditya -- Balasaheb Thackeray's grandson and Sena President Uddhav Thackeray's elder son -- listens to every question from the audience carefully at the event, which is held at the plush NSCI Dome, Worli, south central Mumbai.
Clad in a blue shirt and grey pants, Aaditya addresses several issues, including safety for women, nepotism, sports, Mumbai's night life and the ban on plastic.
The youth are more concerned about jobs than any other issue.
When Aaditya speaks about a ban on plastic, implemented by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation ruled by the Shiv Sena, a youth asks him about the loss of jobs due to a hurriedly taken decision.
Aaditya says the main reason behind the decision is to protect the environment.
He also suggests that people use environment-friendly material to make spoons, plates or decoration for Ganpati festivals.
But his answer on jobs is unconvincing.
WATCH: What the youth want?
Most of the participants are affiliated to the Sena, but they ask their youth leader some tough questions, even though there is no opportunity to ask a counter question. Aaditya answers them all without consulting any notes -- or paper in hand.
"It is important to have interactions between the government and youth, political parties and the youth. You are not scared to question authority. You are not scared to speak your minds. That's what I love about this generation," the 28 year old tells the audience who break out in slogans like "Awaj konacha.. Shiv Senecha! (Whose voice is it? It is the Sena's!)"
During the interaction, Aaditya takes a slightly divergent stand from the Sena's ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, over the Congress's poll promise to repeal the sedition law if the party is voted to power in the Lok Sabha election.
"If Rahul Gandhi wins, he wants to keep Section 370 (which confers a special status on Jammu and Kashmir), he wants to scrap the sedition law. We say there is no harm in amending the sedition law, it shouldn't be used politically. If scrapped, it will be harmful for the country," he says, a line different from his father's position. Uddhav has denounced the Congress proposal to junk the sedition law.
A participant asks him about nepotism. After all, the Sena has become a Thackeray-centred political party. Aaditya agrees that the phenomenon exists in politics.
"I am trying to make the political system more answerable to the people. I agree there is a platform for people who come from families like me. But there is a struggle to go ahead," he insists.
How can an Indian without family backing in politics get an election ticket?
WATCH: Aaditya's advice to aspiring politicians
After a bitter exchange of barbs for five years, the Shiv Sena and BJP finally stitched an alliance for the Lok Sabha election.
Before the alliance was sown, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut -- who also edits the party daily newspaper Saamna -- told Rediff.com that the BJP would be wiped out in 2019.
A participant asks Aaditya if mending fences with the BJP was political opportunism, and the younger Thackeray replies in the affirmative.
What changed that the BJP and Sena came together to contest the 2019 general election?
WATCH: Why the Sena formed an alliance with the BJP...
The tie-up with the BJP instilled hope in many Shiv Sena workers that the party could also ally with Aaditya's uncle Raj Thackeray who runs the rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
WATCH: Is an alliance with the MNS possible?
When audience members grill Aaditya about the awful condition of Mumbai's roads, especially during the monsoon, this is what he says:
WATCH: Aaditya explain the problems about Mumbai roads
The event begins with a performance by Indian Idol participant Rahul Vaidya and leads to the interaction with Aaditya who is accompanied by the Sena's latest recruit, Priyanka Chaturvedi.
Priyanka quit the Congress on Friday, April 19, and joined the Sena the same day!
During the two-hour programme, Aaditya -- in a refreshing change from the abusive and distasteful tenor of the 2019 election campaign -- does not indulge in any name calling.
He tells the participants that not everyone has to agree with him on any issue.
Interactions like these, I felt, boost the public perception of politicians and I hope Aaditya will continue such Sanvads even after memories of this election season fade.