Two important incidents that followed the end of the Bal Thackeray era should not go unnoticed. Firstly, Raj Thackeray, the late leader’s nephew, preferred to walk by the vehicle carrying his uncle’s body to Shivaji Park. Then there is an advertisement by the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) expressing deep condolences over the death of the Sena patriarch.
No development in politics can be overlooked. Similarly, Raj’s decision to avoid the vehicle and asking his spouse to be with cousin Uddhav, his wife Rashmi and son Aaditya travelling by it is significant. After watching him rushing to Matoshree to be with his ailing uncle on several occasions and visiting Uddhav twice during his angioplasty at Lilavati Hospital, Shiv Sena supporters had presumed that in the not so distant future the two cousins would bury their animosity and join forces.
But, though Raj stood by Uddhav during the last rites, his detachment was evident. It seems his path will be different from his cousin’s. It may signal the end of certain developments that were on behind the scenes. People who were keenly following the days of illness of Thackeray senior say his dream of seeing Raj and Uddhav together again may remain unfulfilled even after his demise. And now, it will be intriguing to watch the days of the Sena without the leadership of Bal Thackeray, who headed the organisation since 1966 to November 2012 — a record 46 years.
The other development pertaining to the advertisement is noteworthy considering no other political party except NCP has broken the unwritten norm that prevents them from eulogising a person from a rival party. Individual comments flow ceaselessly, but NCP’s plaudit said, “A person of this era shining on the state horizon has gone. We send our deepest condolences to the Thackeray family and the state.”
There is no denying the fact that Thackeray and Pawar shared an excellent rapport since the inception of Shiv Sena. Pawar even attended the first rally addressed by Thackeray at Shivaji Park. The friendliness grew despite the political rivalry and occasional public criticism of each other.
So, what exactly does NCP wish to convey now? Clearly, if Uddhav and Raj are not coming together, NCP wants to promote itself as alternative for people who are sitting on the fence and worry about the future of the warring cousins and their parties. Even for leaders who would find themselves in a tricky situation following Bal Thackeray’s cessation, NCP may come out as the biggest sympathiser since it welcomed former Sainiks such as state excise minister Ganesh Naik, minister of state for urban development Bhaskar Jadhav.
The days of Shiv Sena without its supreme commander have just begun. It would have remained a force to reckon with had Raj decided to realign with it. Politics in India has always witnessed such issues cropping up after the death or retirement of the party chief who swayed followers. The Gen Next has fumbled in taking the legacy forward. The present situation of Congress is not very different. Similarly, the future of other political parties such as Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janta Dal, M Karunanidhi’s DMK, Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK will be keenly watched.
It’s an understatement to say that thing will be challenging for Uddhav. Thackeray senior expanded his party base because of his excellent rapport with people from diverse fields such as activists, celebrities, litterateurs, sportspersons, and the working class of Mumbai and surrounding areas. To maintain his clout, Bal Thackeray harped on issues like Marathi Vs South Indian, Marathi Vs North Indians and Hindus Vs Muslims. He stuck to his beliefs till the last breath. Now his son must prove himself worthy of this bequest.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY