Aaditya Thackeray rallies Shiv Sena loyalists through 'Shiv Samvad' for a mid-term poll

While both Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya must be missing the army of angry and unemployed youth to hit the streets, the latter's dialogue is receiving encouraging response by all accounts

Aaditya Thackeray
Aaditya Thackeray
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Sujata Anandan

When Bal Thackeray was alive, though ailing, and his grandson Aaditya still in college, the latter had wanted to set up a youth wing of the Shiv Sena which he could head for himself. Thackeray was bitterly opposed to the setting up of a Yuva Sena because the Shiv Sena had always been a party of young, muscular Maharashtrian boys who were always on the ready to rally round Balasaheb at a moment's notice. How many times did we hear him threaten us with, “Even if a hair on my head is touched, the streets of Mumbai will be flooded with blood!”

That confidence came from the fact that Thackeray’s army of Shiv Sainiks were unemployed youth who had joined the party out of resentment at being marginalised by mostly South Indians but also North Indians in their own state. South Indians took away the white collar jobs – hadn’t Thackeray published lists drawn from the Bombay telephone directory to demonstrate how most Class One to Three jobs were taken by South Indians? Eventually North Indians got into the unorganised sector all over Mumbai - like taxi drivers, fish sellers, paanwalas, etc., which the more educated middle class Maharashtrian had no use for.

But then Thackeray set up the Lok Adhikar Samitis at every Sena shakha which kept a close watch on all office vacancies and there was compulsion on employers to hire local boys over outsiders. By the time Aaditya entered college, the Shiv Sena was hoist by its own petard – the previously unemployed youth not only had jobs but by then they were middle-aged middle class men with a stake in the system and no longer willing to take to the streets at a moment’s notice. They had followed Balasaheb’s diktat and restricted themselves to the Marathi medium as had Uddhav and Raj Thackeray.

But in later years both cousins felt highly handicapped by their lack of English – Balasaheb could converse well in the language because he was a product of a British education before independence. But while Uddhav and Raj mustered some Hindi, they were completely at sea with English – even today neither has managed even half a sound byte to any English language channel. So they decided they would not similarly handicap their children and sent them to premium English medium schools and colleges.

Now Bal Thackeray’s followers saw no reason why their grandchildren should not be similarly equipped to face the world at large by not restricting them to a Marathi medium education. Boys from traditional Shiv Sena families began to emerge as entrepreneurs, lawyers, chartered accounta8nts and other genteel professionals who were simply loathe to flood the streets with their blood at a moment’s notice.

Uddhav Thackeray had always wanted the gentrification of the Shiv Sena but he also knew that the core strength of the party rested in its lumpen loyalists and they needed a fair mix of the two. That has diluted the previous militancy of the Shiv Sena but Aaditya was right in recognising that the party was missing the energy of the youth and Uddhav finally persuaded his father to give in to his son’s wishes.

Initially, the Yuva Sena acted much like Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena – beating up college principals, blackening the faces of teachers they didn’t like, etc. but eventually Aaditya’s rubbing of shoulders with the gentrified people of Mumbai put a stop to this and the Yuva Sena became almost defunct.

I wonder if, in view of the crisis in the party today, both Uddhav and Aaditya have had second thoughts about the gentrification of their political party. However, they seem to have landed on their feet at least with regard to rallying the forces around them.

The Shiv Sena’s party Constitution is so tightly written in favour of the Shiv Sena pramukh (today that is Uddhav Thackeray) that Eknath Shinde is obviously finding a complete takeover very difficult. He seems to have persuaded a bulk of MLAs and MPs but Aaditya’s Shiv Samvad yatra undertaken even before the Supreme Court ruling on the rebels is receiving such crowds and response that it seems to have shaken even the handful of non-elected rebels who were rooting for Shinde.

The calculations of the BJP and the rebels seem to have gone seriously wrong. Both Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis were expecting Uddhav Thackeray to react with pique and expel the rebels from the party. That would have left them free to either join the BJP without seeking re-election or play the victim card among the voters. It would also have given Fadnavis a clear shot at becoming chief minister with majority support rather than being neither here nor there – a deputy chief minister acting as chief minister without the legal authority that could easily be challenged in the courts. And Shinde is having little say in running a government he purports to head, making both the butt of ridicule across Maharashtra.

Contrary to their expectations, Uddhav humbled himself and first called for a face to face dialogue with the rebels, then when they did not respond moved for their disqualification. Meantime, both father and son have overcome the lack of energetic youth in the party to flood the streets with blood – though there are still some straining at the leash, as Uddhav doesn’t desire to return to lumpenisation –by taking to the streets themselves in a different fashion.

In Maharashtra, even today, there are only two parties that go down to the grassroots to every block and village – the Congress and the Shv Sena. The NCP is a party with limited reach, so is the BJP which has always needed the Shiv Sena for this grassroots support (and NCP, the Congress)

Now Aaditya Thackeray’s reaching out to all these shakhas and the building of the third generation, though long in the making, is finally happening. Shiv Sainiks know there can be no Shiv Sena without the Thackerays and even today Uddhav Thackeray, out of office, has more outreach and acceptability than Shinde does in office. It is now becoming obvious that it is only money and the Enforcement Directorate issues that have kept the rebellion going and Aaditya’s dialogue with Shiv Sainiks reveal that those rebels with not much stakes could swing back to Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena the moment an election becomes imminent.

That is why Aaditya has said with much confidence that the Shinde government will fall soon and there will be a mid-term poll in Maharashtra. If he proves right, he would be a leader made, tempered through the fire of adversity and grassroots outreach rather than a drawing room.

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