Uddhav Thackeray was always the shy pussycat to his father Bal Thackeray's roaring tiger. Psychologists will however tell you that it is not the extroverts who are the high achievers but rather those introverted individuals who work quietly out of sight of the radar, without the world getting to know their potential before they have shot to the top of their accomplishments.
Uddhav is something like that in comparison to both his father and his cousin Raj Thackeray who was a chip of the old block and was largely expected to inherit his uncle’s party and keep it on course that Thackeray had set it on, which meant not just militant, extortionist, violent, riotous, parochial and xenophobic but also restricted to the lumpen elements of society who could be expected to execute all of the above within a moment’s notice without asking any further questions.
But that is not what Uddhav Thackeray wanted the Shiv Sena to be. Both he and Raj came into public prominence around the same time in the mid-nineties, weeks ahead of the Shiv Sena's first bid at power in 1995. That is when Uddhav realised there was not one local Maharashtrian individual within the Shiv Sena that the party could be really proud of as an achiever. All their members of Parliament could not speak either English or Hindi and thus were unable to conduct themselves well in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha.
Or if they could, they were all essentially non-Shiv Sainiks, picked by Bal Thackeray for extraneous considerations who neither believed in the Sena philosophy of Marathi sub-nationalism nor could be expected to propagate it in Parliament.
Moreover, he paid heed to the complaints of blue-blooded Shiv Sainiks who grumbled that while they had given most of their lives to build the party bases and bring it to national prominence, these “outsiders” — in a party set up to oppose those very outsiders — were running away with the fruits of their labour while not even a few crumbs came their way, in terms of electoral benefits.
That is when Uddhav Thackeray began to consciously mainstream the Shiv Sena and he brought to that exercise his own understated, moderate personality which was a great contrast to his father's instinctive military-like belligerence and aggressive combativeness.
That is also why he could never get along with people like his cousin Raj (though personally they are good friends) or former chief minister Narayan Rane, whose overbearing aggression was anathema to one whose own pugnacity was limited to strategic retreat rather than confrontational aggression.
For example, soon after the Maharashtra state assembly election results on October 24, when the then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said there had been no pact between the BJP and the Shiv Sena for an equal share in the power stakes, Uddhav simply ceased talks with the party.
Hurt that they were going back on their promise and attempting to establish him as a liar, he chose not to call the BJP names — which his father had done amply under similar circumstances in the past. This included the use of the g***u word for Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani which was placed in a headline above the masthead of the party mouthpiece, the Saamna, to rub the insult in.
When Fadnavis complained that Uddhav had no time for him, he said, “I had all the time in the world. I simply just did not want to talk to him.” That passive aggressive stand was perhaps more devastating than any abuse would have been.
People also say the Shiv Sena is not the party of yore and evokes no fear in anybody these days. However, Uddhav Thackeray recognises the changing times and knows the Shiv Sena cannot afford to be — in full glare of television cameras — a party that threatens, beats up or even kills people for taking a stand against its ideology.
In the mid-1980s, Shridhar Khopkar, a Shiv Sena corporator who had cross voted in favour of the Congress at the Thane Municipal Corporation, was killed and dismembered as an example to others who might have similar ideas. A few years later when Chhagan Bhujbal was planning to defect to the Congress in 1991, he disappeared overnight and Shiv Sainiks, trying to ferret him out, fell back on Anand Dighe, the man accused in the murder of Shridhar Khopkar, in order to frighten Bhujbal into not quitting the party.
Throughout his stint as a minister in the 1990s, in a Congress government and even later when the Shiv Sena was in power in mid to late 1990s, Bhujbal had to be kept under high protection. He was attacked in his official residence by Shiv Sainiks but escaped by the skin of his teeth. “I have told my wife not to expect me to return home alive every time I set out in the morning. I am prepared not to see the sunset of every sunrise I wake up to,” he had then said.
That was in 1997. Nearly a decade later in 2005, Narayan Rane stood before the gates of the Saamna and challenged Uddhav Thackeray to do his worst as he defected to the Congress. Nothing happened. But to journalists who criticised Uddhav for his lack of response, he asked, “Did you want me to create a law and order situation in the state? I could have sent goons there to teach him a lesson. But then wouldn’t you have been the first ones lamming me for causing a riot?”
Eschewing violence has also been a conscious decision by Uddhav Thackeray in mainstreaming the Shiv Sena. He did try to make his party inclusive by making all those who had settled in Mumbai for 20 years or more as part of his ‘Mi Mumbaikar’ policy but was torpedoed in his effort by his cousin Raj, who continued to beat up north Indians for seeking jobs in Maharashtra.
The sporadic responses to Raj's militancy after he split and set up the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena showed his heart was not in it and that he was only trying to play catch up.
Why Uddhav Thackeray has now split from the BJP is because of the strategic mistake he made in abandoning the Marathi manoos for Hindutva. The BJP was all set to subsume his party from within. For those among the Marathi manoos who vote Hindutva do not like the Shiv Sena and the BJP was conscious of that fact. It would have reduced the party to a rump from within.
But the Shiv Sena gets to keep its regional identity in alliance with the Congress and NCP by shifting back to the Marathi aspirations which would be acceptable to the duo. It remains to be seen how well Uddhav Thackeray conducts himself in the office of the chief minister. But it has been a remarkable journey so far for a man who was dismissed as a political pygmy and nitwit by the BJP all of whose leaders were certain he would sink the Shiv Sena after Bal Thackeray.
Instead today he is the chief minister of Maharashtra and presiding over their destinies.