'Uddhav Thackeray won't be easy to manipulate'

Updated: Nov 28, 2019, 07:28 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Be it 2003, when he was made Sena working president, or 2012, when he took complete control of the party, Uddhav Thackeray has always been sneered at. Today, he will put his detractors in their place

Uddhav Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray

When he takes oath as Maharashtra's nineteenth chief minister this evening, Uddhav Thackeray will complete a political journey that has been far removed from his firebrand father's in every way. Not only will he become the first Thackeray to directly hold the reins of power in his own hands, he will have also achieved it in his own understated way.

It is to his immense credit that, over the last seven years, he has not let comparisons to the late Bal Thackeray influence his political ways and mannerisms. A photography student from the Sir JJ School of Arts who then ran an advertising agency, Uddhav's early years were spent away from the rough and tumble of state politics. Not till a power struggle inside the family threatened to consume the party did he take the political plunge 20 years ago, and even that was under the protective shadow of his father. His initial role was to assist the father, till he was made party working president in 2003.

Aaditya Thackeray meets Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi to invite the Congress high command for the swearing-in ceremony today
Aaditya Thackeray meets Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi to invite the Congress high command for the swearing-in ceremony today

Soon, Narayan Rane revolted against Uddhav. He was expelled in 2005 and joined the Congress with a dozen sitting MLAs. The next year, estranged cousin, the ambitious Raj Thackeray, split the party and floated the MNS. While these developments looked like blows to the Sena, in reality, they meant Uddhav was left without any competition inside the party and free to shape his destiny.

His father's demise in 2012 handed Uddhav full control over the Sena, which by then had started showing weaknesses. Some even ridiculed Uddhav as a loser. But neither did he lose the BMC that continues to power his party nor did he allow the Sena to ever slip when the numbers were counted in Lok Sabha or Assembly polls.

Uddhav Thackeray attends Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress leaders’ meeting at Y B Chavan Centre on Wednesday. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Uddhav Thackeray attends Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress leaders’ meeting at Y B Chavan Centre on Wednesday. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

The Parliamentary polls of 2014 were fought with the BJP which, riding the Modi wave, looked to decimate regional allies. Six months later, Uddhav refused to go with the ruling party in the Assembly polls. He demanded 151 seats, which the BJP rejected. The saffron alliance broke for the first time. The Sena which had 63 MLAs, a far better number when seen in the light of BJP's winning streak, joined Devendra Fadnavis's minority government a month after sitting in the opposition benches.

Over the next five years, the Sena irritated and needled the ally so aggressively that another split looked imminent. But in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Uddhav smartly used the BJP's fears of a fractured mandate and got a better deal in a renewed alliance. The tie-up for the recent assembly polls was bundled in that deal.

This month, that deal became the ace up Uddhav's sleeve. After last months dramatic twists and turns, which are too fresh to recall, Uddhav will take over an unprecedented joint government of the Sena, NCP and Congress. Uddhav has not only realised a promise given to father that he would install Sena's CM, but has also ousted the BJP, which is the single largest party in the state.

All these are achievements his detractors wouldn't have thought possible in their wildest dreams. In his own understated way, he has channelled his aggression positively, and left all his rebels and detractors way lower in the state's pecking order.

Uddhav will be the first from the family to be CM, with son Aaditya on his side in the Assembly as a newly-elected MLA. Aaditya's debut in electoral politics hit headlines last month as he is the first MLA from the family. Now the father will be made CM without being a legislator and will have to get elected to either house within six months. Bal Thackeray had refused to contest polls and preferred to remotely control his two successive CMs between 1995 and 99. Uddhav will handle the state affairs from the 6th floor of the iconic Mantralaya.

How will his administration be? Congress and NCP leaders who negotiated with Uddhav threw light on an unknown side of the Sena president. "Seeing his public profile and whatever we had heard of him, we thought he will be easy to manage," said a senior leader. "But he is a negotiator par excellence. He understands the nitty-gritty and argues intelligently."

Many still feel that since Uddhav steps into the top job without any administrative experience, he will be easy to influence and manipulate. But Congress and NCP leaders warn against this thought. "We expect him to have his own ways of doing things, but we expect him to consult others in the team before taking any major decision that could compromise our common interest or, for that matter, any individual partner's interests," said another leader who interacted with Uddhav for the first time during the talks.

But a Congress leader said it is likely that Uddhav will consult Sharad Pawar if needed, on important issues. (Insiders said Uddhav, 59, who has undergone treatment for a heart condition, took inspiration from the manner in which Sharad Pawar, 79, fought even bigger ailments to keep his party alive and kicking.)

"Uddhav's job will begin with building a team of efficient officers in the CMO, which should handle the intricacies of running the office and also explain to the head of the state the pros and cons of policies and decisions. The Sena president will definitely have his own private team at his disposal, comprised of people who have been close to him in the party and family," said another leader, who is expected to be given a cabinet berth.

A strong opposition, led by former friend and ally Fadnavis, will be watching his every move. In fact, the opposition has sounded a warning even before he has taken charge, with Narayan Rane's son Nitesh saying, "Issuing orders from Matoshree is easier, but now they will have to give answers also." If the past is any indication, Uddhav will have all the right answers.

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