Uddhav Thackeray Will Be Maharashtra’s CM, But Will Going Back on Bal Thackeray’s Word Backfire for the Party?


Uddhav Thackeray Will Be Maharashtra’s CM, But Will Going Back on Bal Thackeray’s Word Backfire for the Party?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Despite a good showing in this year’s state assembly elections, Shiv Sena’s political leadership finds itself in an unenviable situation. Their kabhi haan, kabhi naa relationship with the BJP seems to have veered off into the “naa” territory once again, perhaps irrevocably this time (but only until the election). Before the polls, the two partners seemed to have had some sort of power-sharing agreement, but the aftermath has proved that the only thing both parties were in agreement on was that they should be the one on the CM’s chair. And now, after having broken up more times with their pre-poll partner than millenials do with their Tinder #ForeverBaes, the Sena has allied with NCP-Congress to form a government.

But the biggest problem facing the Sena isn’t the unavailability of potential partners, it is the words of its late founder and supremo, Bal Thackeray. Now that Shiv Sena has allied with Congress-NCP coalition to form a government, the supremo’s vehement opposition to siding with those same parties is coming back to haunt Shiv Sena. On Twitter, critics of this latest round of political chess have caused the hashtags #ShivSenaCheatsMaharashtra and #ShivSenaCheatsBalasaheb to trend all day. Of those two, the second one is more important, because it highlights just how much influence Bal Thackeray exerts over the hearts and minds of Sena faithful, even now, seven years after his passing.

In 1999, the senior Thackeray sat down for an interview with NDTV, where the reporter asked him about potentially allying with Sharad Pawar’s NCP in that year’s election, he responded with an emphatic, “Never, never.” Thackeray asked what the voters would think if the Sena were to form an alliance with the same party that it had campaigned against so vehemently before the elections. And though that clip is a decade old, Bal Thackeray clearly had a greater gift for foresight than the MET department, since that is exactly the scenario that the Sena finds itself in today. The BJP, despite having the greatest number of MLAs, has failed to form a government without the Sena’s support. And now the Sena, with the backing of the two UPA parties, has formed a government without its NDA ally. But to do so would mean doing something that Bal Thackeray stated outright he would never do. This might yet prove to be the chink in the Shiv Sena’s armour.

Even today, Shiv Sena hoardings often feature Bal Thackeray’s face, giving it prominence over still-living politicians who fill the spaces beneath.

The only Maharashtra CM from Shiv Sena has been Manohar Joshi, and he came to power during the early days of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance. It was an alliance that Bal Thackeray played a key role in forging, as the party moved from a sons-of-the-soil agenda to a more explicitly Hindutva one. By sticking with the BJP, even when it lost power at the Centre, Thackeray showed that the union of the two parties was held together by shared beliefs, and not simply convenience. To partner with the NCP now would paint the present Sena leadership as having strayed from the path blazed by their late leader.

Getting the CM’s post would be a short-term victory for the Sena, but if they are perceived as having turned their backs on Bal Thackeray’s legacy, it could be a self-defeating one. The shadow cast by the party’s founder is long and looming. To date, despite being the nominal head of the party, his son and successor Uddhav Thackeray has refrained from assuming the title of Shiv Sena Pramukh, which Balasaheb held during his reign. He left behind huge shoes to fill. Even today, Shiv Sena hoardings often feature his face, giving it prominence over still-living politicians who fill the spaces beneath. Who knows what the reaction from the party cadres might be, if Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray are accused of failing to live up to their supremo’s vision for the Shiv Sena?

This might be the Shiv Sena’s best chance to occupy the chief minister’s post in years. But ironically, it might also be the worst possible situation for them to get this chance. And no matter what happens, it is clear that where the Sena is concerned, Bal Thackeray will always have something to say. Even it is from the afterlife.