Thackeray family fight escalates

The monolithic structure of Shiv Sena party which evoked fear in people’s minds for over three decades, is tottering with schisms and fissures. Cracks in the party’s edifice are threatening to pull it down. Though differences in the Sena have surfaced earlier, the core structure managed to absorb the pressures. But recent developments deep within suggest that the Sena might not continue in the same avatar.

The party is desperately trying to contain dirty linen from being publicly washed, especially with the birth anniversary of the late Bal Thackeray falling this week. The simmering tension apprently prevailing within the leadership has shocked the Marati voter base, which mostly hails from the lower, middle and middle-middle class. Even though Shiv Sena won the municipal corporation elections in 2012 under the ostensible leadership of Uddhav Thackeray, some observers attributed the victory to the then chief Bal Thackeray. The senior Thackeray had managed to rope in Dalit leader Ramdas Athavale and this took his estranged nephew, Raj Thackeray, by surprise. Raj was contesting the election through his rival political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

However, the death of Bal Thackeray and transition of power to his son seems to have left the party in poor health. Senior Thackeray had publically ridiculed dynasty politics for the better part of his life. Party old-timers have been finding themselves out of sync with the masses, having been side-lined by the new guard, which, for all its technology savvy, doesn’t seem to be too connected to the public either. The incumbent executive president, Uddhav, who until recently was described as one of the most sensitive, quiet and unassuming leaders, now hogs the limelight in an acute departure from his previous persona.

Invoking legacy

The Shiv Sena has grown by carefully curating image of its party workers and leaders. Bal Thackeray, would lace his speeches with double entendre, often playing to the galleries of conservative middle class Maratis, who loved his parochial side. For a long while, Uddhav eschewed this boorish populism and chose to present a gentlemanly image. Many party workers in the lower echelons thrived on creating a fear psychosis in the minds of those that dared to challenge or even disobey them. In a strange twist the party seems to have evolved into a twentyfirst century political outfit with leaders touting iPads and smooth-talking television achors on prime time. As the Shiv Sena braces itself for the state and parliament polls, the leadership is trying its best to remind its supporters of their late founder. A major rally is being scheduled for Thackeray’s birth anniversary and the media kept suitably informed. Outwardly, the rally seems to be not just to show political prowess to the Sena’s long time ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but to also attempt to invoke Thackeray’s legacy as the party gears up for the polls this summer.

The groundwork to exploit the late Thackeray’s charisma with the locals started a long time back. One heard and read news reports of temples with idols of Bal Thackeray and his wife Meena Thackeray, being constructed. However, Jaidev, Uddhav’s elder brother, challenging the will purported to be left by their father has changed the equation for Uddhav as well as for the party, which claimed to be working for the poor Marathi Manoos. Jaidev, in Bal Thackeray’s own words found in the will was ‘a rebellious son’.

Earlier this month, Uddhav asked  the Bombay High Court to legally validate his father’s will. Jaidev challenged the veracity of the testament, alleging that it was forged as his father would never ever deprive him of a share in the family-owned properties. Jaidev’s application said senior Thackeray’s love for Marathi would never let him write or dictate a testament in English. It also mentions properties that have “quietly not been included in the will” which runs into crores of rupees.

Apart from Jaidev who stays separately with his third wife, other family members like the widow of Bal Thackeray's eldest son Bindumadhav, who died in a road accident some years ago, have not been mentioned. The dust under the carpet in the Thackeray household has started to come out and it doesn’t bode well for the family that once ran maximum city through remote control.

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