The importance of being Aaditya Thackeray

Aaditya Thackeray’s first memorable public action even before he floated his new Yuva Sena party in October 2010 was when he was a final year student at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He was already aware of the clout he could command. As the late editor and writer Aroon Tikekar put it: “How can a 20-year-old walk up to the University of Mumbai’s vice chancellor and give him a 24-hour ultimatum to withdraw a book from the syllabus?” 

That was a rhetorical question. His move was reminiscent of the remote control actions of his grandfather Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena. The book was Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry, also a St Xavier’s alumnus, and recommended as an optional text for second year B.A. students by the Board of Studies. A day before it was withdrawn as a text, the student wing of the Shiv Sena — the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS) burnt copies of Mistry’s book at the gate of the University as it had “derogatory” references to the Shiv Sena and the Marathi manoos. The then vice chancellor, Rajan Welukar, came under criticism for invoking emergency powers under Section 14 (7) of the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994, to withdraw the book from the syllabus. Such is the power of being a Thackeray, and young Aaditya was already conscious of its import. 

That was his warming up for the University senate elections due that year and for a space in student politics. Now 29, he is the first Thackeray to enter the fray as an Assembly candidate in Worli, once the stronghold of the Left. Now it is considered a Sena bastion and any opposition from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has vanished after Sachin Ahir, the local strongman, joined the Shiv Sena. Perish the thought, however, that Aaditya’s future is going to be that of a modest MLA. He is already being projected as a chief ministerial candidate and the face of his party. After the announcement of Aaditya’s candidature, Sena leader Sanjay Raut said that while Chandrayaan didn’t land on the moon due to some glitch, the Sena’s “suryayaan” would definitely land on the sixth floor of the state secretariat (where the the Chief minister’s office is located). But Aaditya, when questioned, told reporters calmly said that his feet would be firmly on the ground, whichever floor he was on, adding to the ambiguity.

The Sena’s senior alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is sure that Devendra Fadnavis will rule as chief minister once again and has set any speculation at rest, but all that remains to be seen. Unlike his reclusive father Uddhav, Aaditya has not been shy of the press and has granted a spate of interviews. Speaking at a media conclave earlier this year, he said he wasn’t chasing a dream (of being CM) but the Sena does dream of having a chief minister one day.    

With Mumbai’s identity as a working class city all but obliterated, it is the asmita or pride of the Marathi manoos that rules the roost, unlike the BJP which appeals to an urbane voter. The Shiv Sena’s sectarian politics has helped it cling on to power for the fifth term in Mumbai’s civic body and as the junior alliance partner it will contest 124 seats for the state polls on October 21. The articulate Aaditya, with his suave manner and affinity for Bollywood, will aim to attract young voters to his party.

Aaditya leaped with enthusiasm into the ring, with a public relations firm to prop him up (Prashant Kishore’s IPAC no less), and has already made a splash. His ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’  covered 104 of the 288 Assembly segments and he engaged with the youth, farmers and people from all walks of life “to seek their blessings”,  as part of a pre-election campaign tour. As president of the Yuva Sena, he had already demanded new rules to check answer papers while he was a student.  But even as he was portrayed as the rising star, there was a huge let down during the recent agitation in Aarey colony when much was expected of him to oppose the cutting of over 2000 trees to make way for the metro car shed.  

This was an opportunity for the young man to connect with the youth and the protests and take a stand over an issue that was absorbing the city. But the conflict of interest was clear as it was the chief minister who was driving the development agenda, and the Shiv Sena which is heading the municipality, had already approved of the trees being cut. Aaditya could only tweet and he was lampooned for that lame gesture. 

While his agenda is aimed at students welfare and helping farmers, much like his father, who is one of the few leaders in the state to have visited the suicide- hit regions, Aaditya is somewhat constrained by the political necessities of the alliance with the BJP. Unlike his grandfather who hated politics and likened it to a ringworm, he seems to take to politics and is already in the top leadership coterie of his party by virtue of his birth. What is surprising is how the mantle fell on him to contest the elections and be the face of the Sena, bypassing his father Uddhav, although he (Uddhav) was never one for the limelight.  

While the Shiv Sena and the BJP politicians have been harsh critics of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, nothing has stopped them from propelling their own children with great alacrity into politics. The Sena has always been keen on youth power, and after the exit of Raj Thackeray who was the head of the BVS once, there was a definite lacuna that needed to be filled. Also to have a Thackeray, however young, as an aspirant to the top leadership could stymie any unwonted aspirations that lesser mortals may have within the party.

While Aaditya got a book banned, he has inherited some of his great-grandfather’s affinity for writing and has already released a music album in 2007 and a book of poems, My Thoughts in White and Black. Notwithstanding his facile inheritance and what is likely to be a smooth election to the Assembly, he may have to confront shades of grey in a fluctuating political scenario. 

(Meena Menon is an independent journalist and author based in Mumbai)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.​

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