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A case of missed opportunities

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On 23rd February the Brihanmumbai Muncipal Corporation (BMC) election results were announced as no party got a clear mandate. It was evident that when Bal Thackeray was actively heading the Shiv Sena the party always had upper hand in Maharashtra politics. However, equations have been changing drastically ever since Uddhav was declared as Bal Thackeray’s successor though it was Raj Thackeray who was seen as the apparent heir. Internal rift began within the party after the declaration. In July 2005, former Maharashtra Chief Minister and Sena leader Narayan Rane was expelled from the party. In the biggest setback to Sena, Raj Thackeray who resembled Bal Thackeray in terms of aggression, oratory skills and mass appeal, floated a new party named Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

The rise of charismatic and flamboyant Raj and his MNS was exceptional. Within just three years of its inception, the party won 13 seats in the 2009 assembly elections and came second in more than 24 constituencies. In 2012, it emerged as the single largest party in Nashik Municipal Corporation and even bagged the Mayor’s post. Raj Thackeray’ MNS was in the process of becoming next Big Brother in the state. At that time, it was predicted by many experts that Raj will become the king maker in 2014 assembly elections and eventually may form the government on his own in 2019. Raj too felt so confident and secured in the politics of Maharashtra that he publically pitched for Modi’s candidature for the PM’s post. This was the time, in fact, when the graph of success of MNS started to slide.

Raj should have opted for an alliance Sena, encashing the sentiments of popular Marathi voters, reducing his aggression a bit and imprinting his image as all inclusive ‘Leader’. However, when success was following him, he didn’t bother to implement such a tactic.

Meanwhile, Uddhav, who is known for a very ordinary oratory skill despite being a ‘Thackeray’, had started to run the Sena as an enterprise in a mild, composed and disciplined manner. Many leaders who had parted from Shiv Sena to join MNS, returned to Sena. While Sena was gaining the strength steadily, MNS was losing the advantage it had steadily. This was the time when Modi wave was sweeping the whole nation, including Maharashtra state. After the breakup of Sena-BJP alliance, Uddhav and Raj should have come together as both of them were aware of the threat from Modi wave. During election campaigns, Uddhav went on to equate Prime Minster Narendra Modi with Afzal Khan (a fierce military commander of Adilshah). If Raj and Uddhav had joined hands before 2014 assembly elections, the cabinet of Maharashtra would have been different today. Though both Sena and MNS may not have got clear mandate, they would still have the upper hand. However, each of them was too confident to think about the union.

Finally, after witnessing a series of debacles, Raj offered an olive branch to Uddhav ahead of the civic body polls in 2017. Uddhav this time should have accepted Raj’s ‘request’, en-cashing the sentiments of popular Marathi voters, and imprinting his image as all inclusive ‘Leader’. Confident of his party’s big win, Uddhav didn’t bother to implement such a tactic. Many people from Marathwada and western Maharashtra had said during media interactions that their heart goes with the Sena – both Uddhav’s and Raj’s, but mind goes with the BJP.

Despite having so many chances, Thackeray brothers didn’t manage to pull a rabbit out of their hats. Now one cousin’s party is struggling for the existence while other one’s outfit has remained restricted to Mumbai and Thane region. It will be interesting to see what strategy the estranged cousins will adopt in future.

Saket Aloni

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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