There is hardly a debate on whether Aaditya Thackeray will win or lose from the Worli-Koliwala assembly constituency in Mumbai. This area of fishermen (Kolis) has traditionally been a Shiv Sena stronghold and these Marathi-speaking fishermen were originally from Mumbai. The rest of the people saw possibilities in this city of dreams to settle here over time. However, the question here is something else.
The question is, why Uddhav Thackeray had to himself stay away but field his son Aaditya Thackeray this election. How would Balasaheb Thackeray have taken it? Will the party be able to reverse the trend of its shrinking footprint, which is its biggest need at the moment? Will Aaditya be the driver in the next BJP-Shiv Sena government, which is considered almost a foregone conclusion in the state, as Uddhav once claimed? Will Aaditya be able to take on the more outspoken BJP leader and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in terms of charismatic leadership? We are trying to find answers to these questions here.
Balasaheb Thackeray had a formidable personality. This was the reason that even after staying behind the scenes for decades, he remained at the centre of Shiv Sena politics and ran his party’s government in the state with remote control. Due to his charismatic personality, Balasaheb rarely feared that any leader of his party would go against his orders after becoming the chief or a Union minister. An exception was the rebellion by nephew Raj Thackeray, which broke the leader from within.
Yet, Balasaheb Thackeray never had second thoughts about his commitment to not assume the leadership himself. However, it was clear from the rebellion of people like Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam that an ‘external’ leadership could no longer be relied upon beyond a point. Unlike Balasaheb, Uddhav, who has a low profile, was under constant pressure to contest elections, but he kept avoiding it. However, he had realised that if he did not bring himself or his son into power politics, along with the weakening of control over the party, his base will shrink further.
Meanwhile, people within and outside the party termed Uddhav’s policy of not directly contesting the polls as impractical in the current political scenario and, at times, accused him of not taking direct responsibility. This frustrated the party rank and file and followers started moving to other parties. Now, unlike Balasaheb, Uddhav couldn’t lament the non-performance of Manohar Joshi or betrayal by Narayan Rane. So, he has decided to bring his family heir into direct politics after almost 53 years of the Shiv Sena’s existence.
Traditionally, those outside the family who were in power in the Shiv Sena, besides serving their own interests, also greatly obliged their respective people. With this, a power broker would become stronger and his dominance would continue from politics to the business world. The redemptive leaders of the party also began playing in crores. And then, when such an ‘outsider’ would leave the party or be removed, he would take away his own voter base.
The base of Shiv Sena, considered a party of villages, had been steadily decreasing for these deserters in the rural areas and today it has become an urban party. It is now expected that with Aaditya in power, the Thackeray family will once again rise, as it happens with family-based parties. This applies to everyone from Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family to Lalu Yadav’s, Om Prakash Chautala’s to Bhajan Lal’s and, in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar’s.
There is no doubt that Aaditya does not have the vocalism of a Balasaheb, tact of a Fadnavis or spirit of Raj Thackeray, but he seems more alert, persistent and constantly busy in ‘preparations’. He has been the head of the student unit of the party in the last few years and has also connected with the people directly by travelling more than 5,000 km in the state in recent months. This not only sharpened the political acumen of Aaditya but also set some dynamics important in politics. Uddhav had even said in a public rally that the chief minister would be from the Shiv Sena this time before the seat-sharing formula was struck with the BJP for the current election. However, realising the present reality, he later changed his statement.
Uddhav has shown political acumen this time in the election for his son’s seat. Aaditya contested from Worli against Suresh Mane of the NCP, who is considered a relative lightweight. Anyway, there is not much in store here for the NCP. From 1990 to 2004, Shiv Sena has won five consecutive times from here. Although Shiv Sena was defeated by NCP’s Sachin Ahir in 2009, in 2014 the Sena again won from here. Even in the 2009 NCP victory, Ahir had a big role and he is now in the Shiv Sena. Worli was thus a sureshot for Aaditya.
Notably, in order to maintain its larger partner position in the 2014 election, Shiv Sena had contested separately and had to be satisfied with just 63 seats in the 288-seat assembly. The BJP had won 122 seats. When the Shiv Sena, which had been all fire and brimstone before the 2014 election, had to enter the post-poll alliance with no respect for the BJP. It dropped the claim for the position of deputy chief minister. However, after several months of supporting the BJP in maintaining the government, the Sena was able to find a place in the government.
Still upset, the Sena continued to try and corner BJP-led state and central governments at every available opportunity. However, the BJP retained the Shiv Sena in the coalition as part of a calculated strategy. The BJP knew it could not find a partner more reliable than the Shiv Sena until it got a wider base in Maharashtra. This time, the BJP contested in 150 seats under the pre-poll alliance while the Army got only 124 seats. Significantly, the Congress had won 42 seats in the 2014 elections and the NCP 41 seats.
Possibly, the new Fadnavis government will be stronger than the previous avatar. Fadnavis has emerged as a skilled administrator over the past five years. Last time he was inexperienced in administrative matters. Now he is further strengthened due to a scattered opposition; he has emerged also as a mass leader. The state is also now looking up him as their leader in the future. It would not be wrong to say that the rise of Fadnavis was another factor that forced Aaditya Thackeray to enter electoral politics. The Shiv Sena now suffers from a mortal fear of being reduced to obscurity eventually without some desperate measures in place.
In the last decade, the Sena’s base in Konkan, Vidarbha and Marathwada had declined significantly. Even strongholds like Pune and Nashik were seen to be crumbling. Most of the people of the Nashik city unit had left the party due to a BJP candidate contesting from the Nashik West seat. In Mumbai too, the Army fought only 19 seats this time whereas there are 36 seats here. Clearly, the Sena is going through a crisis of existence. Most of its senior leaders are now over 65-years old. In such a situation, by advancing Aaditya, the Sena can succeed in attracting the youth while also saving its existence.
It is expected that, in the BJP-Shiv Sena government that will be formed after the election, Aaditya will be the conductor if not the driver of the bus. This will be beneficial for Aaditya if he can pull it off, as he will learn not only electoral politics but also the politics of retaining power and the skill of administration. Bargaining and sabotage are two essential tools in politics he perhaps does not yet know much about.
There is no doubt that Fadnavis has gone much farther ahead than Aaditya. Even leaders like Nitin Gadkari, who was once the current chief minister’s mentor, are no longer able to see themselves as challengers to Fadnavis. But politics is a game of uncertainties. Fadnavis is young and still just around 50; Aaditya is about 20 years younger. It is difficult to say when the time will turn around.