Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena hopes Smita Thackeray will lend it some weight

A month after forming the Government, the 'ED Government' remains a Government comprising the CM and his Deputy. Meanwhile Shiv Sena (ES) is banking on Smita Thackeray to provide it some heft

Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena hopes Smita Thackeray will lend it some weight

Sujata Anandan

Raj Thackeray believed that his ‘Bal Thackeray look’ and identical baritone would lead people to believe he was the original Thackeray. His cousin Uddhav Thackeray’s soft-spoken ways was not quite Sena-like, he thought. But to his surprise, over the years people have demonstrated their preference for Uddhav.

The Eknath Shinde Group also believes it cannot survive without the stamp of the Thackeray name on its legitimacy. They may fight for the bow-and-arrow symbol, but they know better than anyone else that the symbol is not enough without a Thackeray.

They are being constantly reminded of the first split in the Indian National Congress in 1969. Mrs Indira Gandhi, then prime minister, faced severe challenges from the old guard in the party. The Congress’s election symbol was a pair of bullocks with a yoke – nothing could have personified the Congress’s rural moorings better—but the ‘original’ or old Congress retained that symbol. Mrs Gandhi’s faction was given a new symbol – that of a cow with her suckling calf.

Two years later, in 1971, Mrs Gandhi single-handedly swept the Lok Sabha polls, leaving stalwarts like Kamraj, Nijalingappa, YB Chavan, Morarji Desai and others of the old Congress far behind. It was the Gandhi name that worked the magic among the masses.

The story was repeated after the post-Emergency split. This time, though, the cow and calf symbol was frozen and Mrs Gandhi got the completely unrelated symbol of an upheld palm, the panja. But once again she swept the elections. Breakaway Congress stalwarts crawled back to the party. In Maharashtra the only seat that the original Congress could win was that of the first chief minister Yashwantrao Chavan who had once nursed the ambition of challenging Mrs Gandhi for the Prime Minister’s job. He labelled his return as “homecoming” twice over because by now he knew that while he could retain his own seat, if he did not have the backing of the Gandhi name, his party would fall by the wayside.

Now, one might ask, what’s in the Thackeray name? Quite a lot, one might say, given the tussle over it. Uddhav has been constantly taunting the rebels to try and contest the elections without the Thackerays. Some of the rebels have shot back with the barb that if he cared about his father so much, he should spend the Rs 500 crore required for maintenance of his father’s memorial at the Mayor’s Bungalow at Shivaji Park out of his own pocket rather than rely on government funds for the same.

In this columnist’s opinion Bal Thackeray did not deserve a government memorial at all, for while he was a popular demagogue, all that he contributed to the state was violence and lumpenisation. Sharad Pawar had famously said that Bal Thackeray had the unique talent to pick up street goons and turn them into political leaders (like, for example, Narayan Rane and Anand Dighe, the mentor of Eknath Shinde).

Shiv Sena initially wanted a memorial at Shivaji Park where Bal Thackeray was cremated. But the courts decreed that Shivaji Park was public space and could not be politicised. So, it was Sharad Pawar, a good friend of the Thackerays, who suggested in 2013 the Mayor’s Bungalow as a memorial and Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister in 2016 provided the funds to seal his party’s alliance with the Shiv Sena. So, can the Shinde-Fadnavis government stop funding the memorial? They will be damned if they do and damned if they do not.

Now, Smita Thackeray, the divorced daughter-in-law of Bal Thackeray, has long been demanding a ticket to the Assembly or Parliament but Uddhav Thackeray had steadfastly refused. So did Raj Thackeray. When the Shiv Sena used to run riot during Valentine’s Day celebrations, it was at the specific instructions of Bal Thackeray who was upset at a leading greetings card company refusing to fund his favourite daughter-in-law’s public events for AIDS victims. Uddhav and Raj both put an immediate stop to that violence the moment she divorced and moved out of Matoshree.

Even before Balasaheb had died, Smita had threatened to join the Congress if she was denied ticket to contest the election in 2009. Uddhav Thackeray had then said cuttingly, “The day she does (join the Congress), you will find not a single flower anywhere in Mumbai. Because I would have bought every last bloom, got them woven into the world’s biggest wreath and sent it to Sonia Gandhi. Because Congress would then truly need to mourn her entry to their ranks!”

She neither received a ticket from the Shiv Sena nor did she join the Congress. Uddhav accused her of clinging to the Thackeray name despite her divorce from his brother. Now she is headed to the Shinde camp, hoping for better luck.

But Uddhav is not worried. “I am a born Thackeray. She only married into the family. She has no right to the name any longer.”

Born Thackerays. Uddhav and Aaditya are the real Thackerays and Aaditya’s popularity during his Shiv Samvad Yatra is vindicating that stand.

The tug of war is unlikely to end before the next election. For a son is after all a son. And a usurper just that.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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Published: 30 Jul 2022, 1:14 PM