Family and dynasty are very bad words in Indian politics. Or not, as the case may be. When it comes to the descendants of India’s first prime minister, dynasty is a very bad word seeing as how three members of that family were all prime ministers and one daughter-in-law ran the Congress Party and another daughter-in-law joined another party. As of now, two of Jawaharlal Nehru’s great grandsons are Members of Parliament.
Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray find themselves in a position the chief family elder may never have envisaged: Is either of them ready to jump into the electoral fray and try and become chief minister of Maharashtra? File pic
But as we all know, much as we may pretend otherwise, the Nehru-Gandhis are not the only political family in India and in many cases, when it comes to progeny, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Bharatiya Janata Party is not an outright dynasty worshipper as it sees the Congress to be but within the BJP, there are fathers and sons and daughters and nieces and nephews. As long as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has no children, what does it matter what other BJP politicians do after all? Is it not unfair of you to ask? And when it comes to the BJP’s allies, well, they have to do what they can to stay in power isn’t it?
And so Maharashtra finds itself in a piquant situation in the upcoming assembly elections when it comes to family matters. It could reject the Congress-NCP outright, as it did in the Lok Sabha polls and then it would not have to bother about the various power games within the Pawar parivar, let alone the odd compunction of being Rahul Gandhi. Instead, it could take sides in the biggest family drama played out in Maharashtra since, well, since the nephew defected in a huff, leaving the uncle to choose his own son as his successor.
Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray find themselves in a position the chief family elder may never have envisaged: Is either of them ready to jump into the electoral fray and try and become chief minister of Maharashtra? It is a novel concept because the patriarch, the late Bal Thackeray, was very clear that he would never stand for elections and never be part of the government. He was more than proud to be the “remote control” and enjoy the sweet results of power without responsibility. Just what Sonia Gandhi got eviscerated for, he proudly declared was his preferred course of action and may his fury fall on anyone who disagreed.
Yet, the current political climate will not allow his two fighting heirs to follow that path. There are too many calls for “accountability”. Besides, neither of them have his clout, his political acumen or his brazen chutzpah. The Lok Sabha elections, the victory of the BJP and its allies and the rout of the Congress have all brought the carrot of power so, so close to the Shiv Sena and the BJP in Maharashtra. Why should they be happy with municipalities and zillas when they can have the coffers of this great and gigantic state at their disposal?
Both Uddhav and Raj want it and they don’t. The Shiv Sena cannot give up such an opportunity nor give the reins to its ally, the BJP, which has been the junior partner for so long. So, Uddhav Thackeray has to stake his claim. Meanwhile, what Uddhav wants, Raj wants too, and he wants to control Maharashtra, though how he can do that by himself is another story. The lollipop is large and luscious but every lick is perilous... power with responsibility can turn bitter and vicious.
Of course, the recent bypoll results in four states where the BJP lost some and gained nothing while the opposition parties made small, perhaps significant gains has shifted those goalposts a bit. Nothing looks quite like it did in May 2014 and the promises of “better days” are ringing a bit hollow and a bit fake... Even worse, voters are canny or fickle depending on where you stand and pick differently for different legislative bodies, as they appear to have done in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab.
I can however make one prediction: whoever wins and whoever loses, someone’s family tree somewhere will be shaking with glee.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona