It may be recalled that nephew Raj Thackeray was the politically active member of the family when Bal Thackeray led the Shiv Sena. It was only when the party Supremo died that his son, Uddhav, took over the reins of the party in unexpected fashion, instead of Raj. The voters of Maharashtra endorsed this move, leaving Raj to constitute his own Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. It could not, however, make much of an impact on the electoral scene because of the cumulative effect of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.
The scenario, now, has changed. The Hindutva vote in the state is splintered after the BJP-Sena split and nobody can predict which way the voters will go next time around. The battle now is for ‘Maratha Manus’ support, as Uddhav Thackeray’s Hindutva is very much in doubt after his adoption of Maha Vikas Aghadi ‘secularism’. Finding the timing right owing to the mishandling by the CM of recent challenges involving systemic corruption as well as political appeasement, Raj Thackeray has chosen to revive his late uncle’s confrontationist approach. The question being posed before the people is whether the Shiv Sena will be allowed to sink into the NCP-Congress model, or retain its Maratha identity. Since the latter also involves religious assertion, the challenge has been thrown before the Chief Minister on what otherwise is a minor issue – removing loudspeakers from mosques. Having dithered while there was time, Uddhav has been handed a post-Eid ultimatum by Raj – allow public recital of Hanuman Chalisa or accept the demand. The Shiv Sena is already being portrayed as compromised on Hinduism having arrested the political couple, the Ranas, for announcing their intention to recite the holy tract outside ‘Matoshree’, the party’s very own shrine.
So, how will the CM wiggle out of this one? Will the supporters of the party prefer the present compromise that has Uddhav in the CM’s chair, with all the perks it brings, or will they revert to the old Bal Thackeray model of assertive identity? It will lead to loss of face if Uddhav accepts his cousin’s demand at this juncture. If he sticks to his guns, the resulting public face-off can cause considerable discomfiture, especially with the BJP waiting in the wings. The Shiv Sena has attempted to downplay the turnout at Raj’s Aurangabad rally, but if it is indicative of the public mood, the party is in a mess of trouble. Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership is set to face its most serious challenge, yet, in the days to come.