The Shiv Sena Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park on October 24 was like any other, with one significant difference. Party supremo Bal Thackeray was not physically present. Instead his mellowed and poignant words, in the form of a pre-recorded speech, were heard with rapt attention by supporters. Cheers and sloganeering were few and far between, and so were Thackeray’s customary stinging remarks against rivals.
He appealed followers to guard the flame of Marathi unity ignited by him, and made a fervent plea that they take care of Uddhav and Aaditya – his son and grandson. He spoke about his frail health too.
For people, who have been closely following Shiv Sena’s growth and have seen it assume power in BMC and the state government in 1995, this was an important day. They can easily recollect the phenomenal growth of the organisation that always spoke for sons-of-the-soil, and its close ties with prominent leaders from rival parties – proximity to Congress, and friendship with BJP etc.
Certainly, Shiv Sena restricted itself by staying rooted to a family tree rather than being a decentralised organisation. The party has always revolved around the Thackerays – be it the family patriarch, or Uddhav, and now Aaditya. Efforts were always made to ensure focus remains on them and each and every move of the organisation has their blessings. It can’t be termed as unacceptable because the organisation was nurtured by them. But, this has forced the party cadre to always look towards the family for directives, and in the process occasionally ignoring local issues.
The Sampark Pramukh – appointed by the Thackerays — has always been an important post in Sena. Till a few years ago, the chosen ones were from Mumbai – mostly corporators in BMC, Thane or Kalyan-Dombivali. The post was created to handle local level units of Sena and supervise their actions. But, relations between the appointees and local party units weren’t always cordial and sporadically led to major differences that saw many prominent faces of Sena’s rural units quitting in frustration. That constrained the growth of the party.
A noticeable feature of the Dussehra rally was that for the first time two leaders from rural parts of the state were allowed to speak. One of them was Gulabrao Patil, a former MLA from Jalgaon district, known for his high-pitched speeches often critical of the government. Laxman Wadle, who joined Sena some time ago, is a former Shetakari Sanghatna man and was once close to Sharad Joshi.
In fact, Gulabarao Patil had all the credentials to lead Sena in the state assembly. But, his being a leader from rural Maharashtra, or more specifically beyond the Konkan belt, seemingly went against him. Be it Manohar Joshi, Ganesh Naik, Narayan Rane, Ramdas Kadam or incumbent Subhash Desai, all group leaders of Sena have been Mumbaikars. Even when Sena was in power, its CMs were Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane – both from Mumbai, even as their native places are Raigad and Sindhudurg. Most of the important portfolios in this time were with Sudhir Joshi, Pramod Navalkar, Leeladhar Dake, Sabir Shaikh and Ganesh Naik, who were from Mumbai and surrounding areas.
What surprised many during the Dussehra rally was Uddhav’s praise for chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. Ever since Chavan took over as CM, Sena’s affection for him has become a topic of conjecture for Congress and NCP leaders. The CM and Uddhav have had several meetings till date and the latter’s cousin Raj is not far behind.
All said and done, challenges before Shiv Sena are many. The emotional appeal by the party patriarch to followers notwithstanding, the onus lies with Uddhav to keep the torch burning. For this, he will have to go the extra mile.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY