A Thackeray contests an election

The Shiv Sena was launched in 1966. Since then, no member of the family that founded it — Bal Thackeray, his son Uddhav and his grandson, Aaditya — has ever contested an election.

That is about to change now with Aaditya being fielded as a candidate for the middle class-dominated Worli constituency in Mumbai. Both — the choice of candidate and the constituency — are important, for they tell us about the future political trajectory of the Shiv Sena.

But first, a word about the youngest Thackeray. He is a poet and photographer. His first book of poems, My Thoughts in White & Black, was published in 2007. The following year, at 17, he turned lyricist and released a private album “Ummeed”, a music video, with all the eight songs written by him. Not only did singers like Suresh Wadkar, Shankar Mahadevan, Kailash Kher and Sunidhi Chauhan lend their voice to the songs, but grandfather Bal Thackeray ensured its inauguration by Amitabh Bachchan (in his speech at the event, the 82-year old Bal Thackeray had a word of somewhat inexplicable advice for his grandson: “Don’t drive rashly — but it isn’t good to be too slow either!”). Lata Mangeshkar made it a point to visit Matoshree to congratulate the young poet for his achievement.

Soon after, Aaditya  became the chief of the party’s youth wing, the Yuva Sena (his gmail address includes the word “tiger”). His first political “success” was when the Yuva Sena under his leadership forced Mumbai University to withdraw Canada-based Rohinton Mistry’s book Such a Long Journey from its syllabus. What precisely was his objection to the book ? “The book is utterly racist and conveys unwarranted opinions,” he told BS then, in an interview. “Think of yourself as a parent. How would you allow your child to study such a text? Think of yourself as a teacher or a student. How will you read that book in the classroom? You can criticise a policy. But abusive language and things put out of context are things that cannot remain on a curriculum. Are we going to teach students racist literature or something that can get them jobs?”

That’s the nub of his politics — ensuring people have jobs. This is not such a marked change from 1966 when recognising that Mumbai was offering everyone jobs but Maharashtrians, Bal Thackeray launched Marmik but soon it was forced to review its ideological position. To expand its base from Mumbai to embrace rapidly emerging business hubs like Kolhapur and Nagpur, it needed to show it had bigger concerns. Hindutva with a more aggressive, interventionist twist became its new creed, with opposition to cricket matches in which Pakistanis were allowed to play, marking its coming of political age. 

Others — like Chhagan Bhujbal and Manohar Joshi — contested elections but not the Thackeray family. 

Uddhav Thackeray was made working president and then president after his father died, but still stayed out of electoral contests. The Sena broke into two with the smaller section siding with cousin Raj. Uddhav concentrated on defining strategy — which basically consisted of playing the role of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP’s) loyal opposition. But he had earned his spurs by showing that the Sena was needed in rural Maharashtra and was not just an urban phenomenon backed by its dominance of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. In the 2009 Assembly elections, of a total of 44 seats, the party was able to win 26 from rural, 15 from urban and three from semi-urban constituencies. In 2014, the party’s seat count rose to 63 with 34 seats in rural, 23 in urban and six in semi-urban areas.

So why is Aaditya Thackeray contesting the elections instead of managing them? 

He himself has never hidden his ambition of becoming an MLA. And like many before, the party seems to think that it is better to join the government and influence it from within instead of wasting time criticising it. From available information it appears eventually Aaditya Thackeray could get his party to bargain with the BJP for the position of deputy chief minister. Uddhav will continue to be party chief. This way, the Sena will be both in the government and out of it. Can there be a sweeter spot?

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