In Maharashtra, Thackerays aim for Hindutva space

In Maharashtra, Thackeray cousins aim for Hindutva space

Raj Thackeray. (File Photo)

Amidst the fast-changing political scenario in Maharashtra, the two Thackeray cousins seem to be jostling to create more political space for themselves. This follows Shiv Sena, BJP’s oldest ally, walking out of the fold of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and forging an alliance with the Congress-NCP combine,  the two main constituents of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). 

The year 2019 had been one of the most politically happening in the last 25 years. After constantly targeting the duo of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah for over four years, the BJP-Shiv Sena contested the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls together.

But after the Maharashtra Assembly polls, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray chose to walk out of the saffron alliance and become the chief minister thanks to NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. 

Uddhav was made the leader of Sena-NCP-Congress alliance named Maha Vikas Aghadi government - a move to bring in stability to the government formed by parties with diametrically-opposite ideologies.

In the process,  the Shiv Sena’s pro-Hindutva image took a beating as Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi continue to hit out at Hindutva icon Veer Savarkar.

Sensing opportunity and a void, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray rebranded his party,  adopted a saffron flag with the royal seal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj,  the legendary Maratha warrior-king,  and took a pro-Hindutva stance.

In fact,  he also launched his son Amit Thackeray into active politics, addressing him as an MNS leader.

Uddhav’s son Aditya has already made a successful debut by winning the elections from Worli in Mumbai and becoming a Cabinet minister looking after the portfolios of environment, tourism and protocol.

On January 23,  the 94th birth anniversary of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, who had spearheaded the cause of “Marathi manoos” and Hindutva, the two warring cousins made their positions clear.

Raj,  in a day-long first-ever convention, virtually supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the vexed issue of Citizenship (Amendment) Act and called upon the government to throw out Bangladeshi and Pakistani infiltrators.

He took up issues that used to be raised by his late uncle, like infiltration, loudspeakers on mosques and so on. 

“Follow religion in your homes... why use loudspeakers in mosques?  When we do aartis at home without creating any problems for others, why create problems by loudspeakers,” said Raj,  making it clear that he would take the Hindutva line along with cause of Marathi people.

Uddhav,  in response,  after he was felicitated by Shiv Sena, said : “...our rang (colour) is bhagva (saffron),  our antarang (inner self) is bhagva” - making clear that his party would not deviate from the Hindutva issues. This was followed by an announcement by his Man Friday and  Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut,  that Uddhav would visit Ayodhya on March 7.

In the recent past, Raj reportedly had a meeting with Leader of Opposition and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, bete noire of Uddhav. However,  there is no confirmation of this.

When the erstwhile Shiv Sena-BJP saffron alliance government was in power from 1995-99,  Raj (now 51),  a cartoonist, and Uddhav (now 59),  a photographer,  used to accompany Balasaheb. There used to be a lot of speculation on who would succeed the ‘Hindu hriday samrat’, as the charismatic elder leader was known. 

In 2003, the succession line was clear  when Raj proposed the name of Uddhav as the working president at Shiv Sena’s conclave in the hill station of Mahabaleshwar.

In 2006, Raj walked out of Shiv Sena after irreconcilable differences and launched MNS. Thackeray Senior passed away on November 17,  2012, aged 86. 

In fact,  Uddhav now writes his full name - ‘Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray’. “We will have to remember, Shiv Sena is a 54-year-old party and MNS is just 14-year-old. 

Dramatic shift

Says veteran political analyst and commentator Prakash Akolkar,  who has been following Maharashtra politics for over four decades: “When the split happened,  it was not a vertical split. In the last 10 years, politics in India has seen a dramatic shift.” 

When Raj formed the party,  he saw a fair success. In the 2009 Assembly polls,  he won 13 seats. But later, the picture was not rosy for him. In 2014 and 2019, he had to be content with just one seat. The damage that he did to Shiv Sena in the 2009 Lok Sabha seats by taking away Marathi votes could not be replicated later.

His anti-north Indian stand was met with resistance by other parties, particularly the Congress. He was then an admirer of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and went to the neighbouring state to see his development model.

However, after demonetisation, he became a critic of Modi and Amit Shah. He also led the anti-electronic voting machine (EVM) campaign in Maharashtra. He became close to Sharad Pawar,  the Maratha strongman,  but Congress had reservations about including him in Maha Aghadi. On the other hand, because of his Modi-Shah bashing,  he could not side with the BJP-led Maha Yuti either.

“October-November, 2019  changed the course of Maharashtra politics. With Uddhav siding with NCP-Congress, BJP is making all efforts to topple the government. The MNS is virtually alone now...Raj is making attempts,  a last-ditch effort,  to grab the Hindutva space that may have eroded because of Shiv Sena’s shift to UPA,” comments a senior political analyst.

Elections to the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation is scheduled to be held in 2022.  Urban centres like Thane, Pune and Nashik will also see civic polls.

To avenge what has happened, the BJP will make efforts to see that Shiv Sena is routed in Mumbai that it had been controlling for 25 years. What is to be read is BJP’s silence - more than listening to statements and rhetoric of Uddhav or Raj.

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