Trailing Aaditya Thackeray, the first from the family to contest elections

Aaditya Thackeray
One thing that convinced him the moment was ripe to contest the upcoming Maharashtra state election, jokes 29-year-old Aaditya Thackeray, was that during visits to local schools, children were addressing him as “Uncle”. His party’s new slogan, “Heech tee vel (It is time)”, supposedly a reference to the dawn of a new Maharashtra, also signifies Thackeray’s own coming of age in politics. The former chief of Yuva Sena, who was elected a Shiv Sena leader last year, is contesting the Legislative Assembly election from Mumbai’s Worli constituency.

It is a first for the Thackeray family; before this, no member has ever asked to be elected. His grandfather Bal Thackeray, father Uddhav and estranged uncle Raj famously believed in “remote-control” politics, where they wielded unquestioned influence while propping up other names for roles in administration and legislation. “Contesting elections has been a long-standing goal for me,” the young Thackeray says. He had wanted to debut in the 2014 election, but was six months shy of the minimum age of 25. 

Political doublespeak has been his language of choice in interviews amid election campaigning. “The last five years were about covering the tracks of what the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had done to Maharashtra in the last 15 years. Now we have to go ahead.”

Last Sunday, cab drivers in Worli warned passengers of the heavy tilak. 

Inside the truck an air of a family gathering prevailed. His mother Rashmi, brother Tejas, some cousins and uncles were there. For his 30-second pit stops, local The Lion King. 

Thackeray's first Simba-like outing had been nine years ago when he was inducted into politics fresh out of college, and launched the youth wing Yuva Sena. He had burst onto the scene in an earlier incident, violently protesting for Rohinton Mistry’s book manoos (pride). The history and law graduate has since launched a real estate business, and in an affidavit filed ahead of these elections declared assets worth roughly Rs 16 crore including a BMW that was curiously valued at Rs 6.5 lakh. As a youth leader, his comments on policy proposals included an idea to create zones in Mumbai that would stay open 24 hours, supporting net neutrality and imposing bans on plastic.

Worli constituency is a microcosm of Maharashtra, according to Thackeray, with people from multiple cultures, languages and means. A sizeable population of the Marathi voter base exists here together with Marwaris and Telugu people spread across high-rises, chawls and slums. “I felt these layers of people and the complexity of working with them will be a good challenge for me, going ahead.” While maintaining a loose grip on Hindutva and Ayodhya, traditional causes of the Shiv Sena, the Thackeray family scion is attempting to play to several galleries. By all accounts, this will be an uncomplicated win for Shiv Sena, after Worli strongman Sachin Ahir left the NCP and joined the party this June.

Thackeray appeared in a qawwali-esque tunes. The nativist party’s posters this year are in multiple languages, too. “It has always been about inclusivity,” he says, unconvincingly. The party gained ground in the 1960s with its call for favouring Maharashtra’s “sons of the soil”, rather than Indians from southern states who seemed to be landing jobs more regularly in the public sector then. In later decades, it shifted ire to Indians from northern states coming to Mumbai for work.

Shiv Sena watchers maintain the party is now trying to please people because it risks being made irrelevant by its more aggressive ally in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party. “There is no love lost between the two but Shiv Sena needs the BJP,” notes Mumbai-based political commentator Pratap Asbe. BJP, on its part, would prefer to dominate the state alone. If conditions seem favourable, some Shiv Sena legislators would readily switch sides. In this scenario, having Thackeray contest is Uddhav’s idea to “settle his son in politics,” reckons senior journalist Prakash Bal Joshi. Not merely a seat in the legislature, it is expected the party will want deputy chief ministership for the budding politician. If he does get it, it will likely be a smaller portfolio such as for youth affairs and sports.

His first course of action after the elections, Thackeray says, will be to carry out the party’s recent manifesto, which outlines populist measures like meals for Rs 10, health checkups for Rs 1 and discounted electricity. In this context, Dhaval Kulkarni, who recently authored zunka-bhakar, a rural staple of chickpea-flour gravy and bajra rotis, at Rs 1 had turned into a land-grabbing exercise with properties in prime locations being given away for cheap.

Thackeray, who is reportedly being advised by political strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee, surrounds himself with Shiv Sena progeny including maternal cousin and Yuva Sena president Varun Sardesai. In the last five months, he says he has not had time for a dinner with friends. He says he is also out of touch with “the poet” in him — at age 17, he had released a book of poetry and lyrics for an album in the presence of bigwigs like Amitabh Bachchan. “I read poems now on social media sometimes, like everyone else.” 

This casual, distant approach seems to extend to his politics too. Thackeray recently wrote strongly-worded pieces online criticising the cutting of trees in the Aarey forests for Metro work, going against his allies in the BJP. While the Thackeray scion is at his most animated when speaking on this subject, he never made an appearance at the protests. Nor does the matter figure in the party manifesto. And, the trees have been cut anyway.

At the roadshow, bystanders in some areas he drove past complained: “Why doesn’t he step out?” To earn any lasting popularity in what are quite trying circumstances for his party, he will indeed have to do that – and more frequently too.

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