I was born in Mumbai and have known the Shiv Sena since I was a child. I never imagined Thackeray’s legacy would be lost in my wildest dreams. Shiv Sena was very close to my heart because I grew up in Girgaon and was Pramod Navalkar’s neighbor. Uddhav Thackeray seems to be getting into a lot of trouble these days. First, he lost the government, and then he lost the Shiv Sena party and its precious symbol. There is buzz that he could lose party funds as well as some offices. All this is happening after Eknath Shinde, who was supposed to be his once-trusted associate, rebelled against him. Uddhav could not handle his unplanned success; he never took his party workers into confidence. There was a lack of communication, and keeping Aditya ahead spoiled it further. Meeting Balasaheb was very easy, but getting time to meet Junior Thackeray’s father and son is a big task. Balasaheb always had the guts to entertain his opponents and his critics.
I remember there was a journalist who was trashed by Shiv Sainiks in 1990 for criticizing Balasaheb, and Shiv Sena graciously invited him to Matoshri. Balasaheb was not only kind to him, but he gave an interview to Uddhav and his son Aaditya, who always avoided people who slightly disapproved of them. Balasaheb played the politics of adding people, whereas Uddhav played the politics of avoiding people.
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Uddhav’s biggest mistake was the change in the party constitution in 2018. With this amendment, he gained complete control of the electors for the party president election. In other words, the party president decided who the voters for his post would be. The Election Commission of India, in its order favoring Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, said that it’s against the spirit of inter-party democracy. Only when their self-interest-driven personal schemes fail, politicians remember the voters and beg them to restore their lost fortunes. Another mistake that Uddhav made was the delay in taking action against the Eknath Shinde faction. When Shinde left for Surat in the middle of the night on June 20, 2022, immediately after voting in the Legislative Council polls, Uddhav should have expelled him and his 15 other MLA colleagues. This would have at most shrunk his party on the floor of the House but would have saved his legacy as the expelled group could not have claimed the party as their own. Uddhav could have gracefully faced the floor test, but he not only resigned but left CM House on a very humbling note. He surrendered to the situation without fighting the battle appropriately.
Maharashtra is more attached to Balasaheb Thackeray than to his party, the Shiv Sena. This party was a source of pride for Mumbaikars, particularly Maharashtrians. Eknath Shinde is confined to Thane and, to some extent, Mumbai, while the former Shiv Sena encompasses the state. So, it gives some leeway to Uddhav Thackeray if only he wants to resurrect himself. Thackeray will have to nurse the rural hinterland, forging local rainbow alliances of castes and communities. If Thackeray is really keen to revamp the party in the vicinity, he should give up his old habit of hopping around villages in a chopper, addressing a meeting or two, and returning home without meeting people in person. He should give up his selective approach of picking up certain people for media publicity photos.
When Eknath Shinde became CM, the first thing he did was greet all relevant and irrelevant people. He developed a special bond with media people. He has hired various strategists who are executing his publicity activities.
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Uddhav Thackeray never realizes the need to keep the party in good repair; he doesn’t realize that his own political fortunes are tied to how well he manages his party. Say he can’t afford to dwell on the past. If he does not act, he will perish, as have many other family enterprises and political party scions. By breaking away and joining a bigger and more aggressive BJP, Eknath has actually reduced himself to a bit player in the larger BJP game. He was a big fish in the small Shiv Sena pond, but in the larger BJP pond, he is now a small fish. Even if the BJP comes to power in 2024, an outsider like Eknath Shinde cannot hope to outshine “native” BJP leaders. Devendra Fadnavis is a shrewd politician and an excellent administrator. All the bureaucrats and police department officials silently supported him when he had to resign as chief minister. He channeled his humiliation and manifested his fate.
If Eknath Shinde’s revolt against Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership was correct, breaking away is like burning boats behind his exit. On the other hand, for a person of his merits and following, there was no hope of heading the party, particularly when the party chief liked to live in his ivory tower. For as long as he lived in Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde was subject to the family’s orders. What could be more galling than taking orders from Aaditya Thackeray? This has irked many senior leaders of the former Shiv Sena. Uddhav’s unpredictable behavior, continued ED and IT raids, corruption, and propaganda have all worked against his interests.
Now Uddhav Thackeray is like a fish out of water for survival. If he opts for a relationship with the BJP, that party will spurn it as they have a close relationship with Shinde’s faction of the Shiv Sena. If Uddhav Thackeray switches back to Hindutva, people will not believe him. The best way for Uddhav Thackeray is to continue his alliance with the NCP and Congress and oppose Hindutva and Modi.
He can be one among many and swim in politics for some more years until the Modi tide engulfs the entire country in a big way. Only voters decide a politician’s fate in a democracy, and Maharashtra voters will decide whether Uddhav Thackery has lost the Shiv Sena legacy or not. This fate will be decided in many elections in the coming years: municipal elections (including BMC), the 2024 Lok Sabha election, and the 2024 Assembly election. And politics is about patience, so even if Uddhav Thackeray loses this election, he will have time to bounce back in later elections. Balasaheb, as Shiv Sena chief, could get anything done in Maharashtra if he wanted to. He knew the Shakha Pramukhs by name. In contrast, Uddhav is a poor replica of his father. He is dependent on others to do his work. I hope common sense prevails and he returns to power, or at the very least recreates the Shiv Sena.