The politics of estranged Thackeray cousins
Raj revives the MNS-Sena battle, this time over Hindutva that has become relevant yet again, in the times of religious divide over CAA-NRC which should also put Uddhavâs saffron DNA to test
Raj revives the MNS-Sena battle, this time over Hindutva that has become relevant yet again, in the times of religious divide over CAA-NRC which should also put Uddhav's saffron DNA to test.
Comparison with Bal Thackeray hasn't stopped because Raj continues to follow the mannerism of the leader with whom he spent several years, honing his leadership qualities as well as oratory and cartooning skills. And yet, the crowd-puller hasn't been able to impress the voters. The flashes of brilliance he showed in the initial phase of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's politics didn't turn into a fireball. He attempted a revival on the birth anniversary of late Bal Thackeray last week. He exploited his uncle's hardline Hindutva that is politically relevant in the times of religious divide over CAA-NCR, and Uddhav's liberal formula of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA).
While Raj faced political doom, Uddhav worked his way up by sustained ups and downs. The CM kept the Sena floating all along and three months back, he threw the burden of BJP away to join hands with the Congress and the NCP. His father had made two CMs in his lifetime. Uddhav made himself the chief minister last year and gave a stunning start to the next generation by having the elder son Aaditya anointed as his political heir. Raj also launched his son Amit last week, drawing the battle lines for the future.
Why has Raj failed great expectations and needed a makeover? People blame his failure on a policy flip-flop, reactionary moves and a lack of long-time programmes for the party workers and leaders, most of whom abandoned him in the past 14 years. Raj has indeed worked for the party but with alarming inconsistency. He took strong positions but also made U-turns without rationalising. Change is constant, but it should be justified with a convincing rationale. The people support you if they are convinced with a new course of action and approach. For example, the MVA government turned out to be a stunner for the voters who had clearly favoured the BJP-Sena combine. The NCP and Congress, which are now Sena's partners, weren't given a mandate to make the government. So, the coalition spends a lot of time and energy in justifying the 'unholy' pact because it knows that the longer they serve the stronger they would become to contest the next elections together. Ideologically apart but united in keeping the BJP away, the Sena is MVA's mainstay. Uddhav is accused of being selfish in abandoning Hindutva for making friends out of foes.
Raj, who has shed weary skin against the backdrop of MVA's formation, is out to fill the saffron vacuum. He has blamed the mistakes of the past on his advisers. He said the drastic change in the party flag, ultimately embracing hardcore Hindutva, was his primitive instinct that he couldn't imply because of bad advice. When he spoke, he reminded of Bal Thackeray's communal hardline while promising to be the next Hinduhridaysamrat. He supported the BJP-led NDA government's citizenship law. A flummoxed liberal section, which had showered Raj with high praise when he lashed out at the Modi-Shah duo while campaigning independently for the Congress in the Lok Sabha election, has now drawn their swords against the MNS president. MNS's long march next month in support of the CAA should also amplify the BJP voice and put Sena under pressure to take a firm stand when the Congress and NCP demand to table a resolution that the state would not implement the amended Citizenship Act. The issue is expected to heat up in the Budget session of the legislature in February-March.
On the evening his estranged cousin threatened to score better in the Hindutva examination, Uddhav couldn't respond comprehensively but he underlined unfailingly that he hasn't abandoned Hindutva. He also recalled a bad memory of the Sena splitting at the hands of his family member, warning the workers about yet another attempt to woo them. If we consider previous battles between them, Uddhav has enjoyed an upper hand in the elections that matter most in democracy. Raj hasn't turned out to be a champion of electoral politics because he benefitted others more than his own party. This time also the political circles aren't sure what Raj would gain and are more interested in guessing the benefits his saffron pitch should bring others.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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