Aaditya Thackeray is just 29-years-old but has already outdone his father and Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, uncle Raj Thackeray and grandfather Bal Thackeray by being the first Thackeray to contest and win an assembly seat. Often seen driving around Mumbai in his BMW that apparently cost just Rs 6.5 lakh because, of course, the Thackerays are so hard pressed to accumulate wealth that they buy second-hand cars, Aaditya Thackeray is the new young gun in Maharashtra politics who isn’t playing by the rules.
In a parallel world, imagine Congress leader Rahul Gandhi going on a night out with a young and good-looking Bollywood actress. News channels would’ve gone into a tizzy. Anchors would’ve snapped their veins by shouting at the audience to look at the Gandhi brat painting the town red with an actress. They would’ve declared Rahul unfit for politics and guffawed at his audacity. Media would’ve announced his nikaah or Christian wedding, whichever religion works better for your imagination or hatred, since his janeu has been dismissed by half of India’s population. Rahul Gandhi would’ve been the butt of all jokes.
A SoBo boy, not a political leader
But Aaditya Thackeray seems unapologetic about his life. He has been spotted with actress Disha Patani and seems unaffected by people’s opinion.
This is also perhaps why no one is taking him seriously in politics, which is all about perception. And Aaditya Thackeray’s image so far is of a boy who is being pitched for a man’s responsibility he isn’t capable of undertaking yet. Sounds familiar? It’s no surprise that Home Minister Amit Shah refused to give in to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s demands of making his son Aaditya, and not BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, the CM. In fact, NCP-Congress too didn’t really warm to this suggestion and pushed Uddhav Thackeray, the once reluctant son of former Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, to become the CM.
Aaditya Thackeray brandishing a bracelet studded with 555 diamonds is everything that an Indian politician shouldn’t do. Having written a book of poems and penned lyrics for a private music album, Aaditya Thackeray is just another boy that fits the SoBo culture rather than Maharashtra’s legislative assembly.
Vibrant nightlife activist
It’s only fair that Uddhav Thackeray hustled so hard for his son because he had Rahul Gandhi’s example in front of him. After all, Rahul’s political journey is more a warning than a model for others.
If Rahul’s career would’ve started in 2009, he wouldn’t be struggling to create support for himself today as a national leader. He even lost Amethi to BJP’s Smriti Irani. That’s how much Rahul Gandhi’s image has cost him. The Burberry jacket-wearing Gandhi scion has got everything on a silver platter. Aaditya Thackeray fits the same bill, which is why Aaj Tak’s Anjana Om Kashyap was heard calling him Shiv Sena’s Rahul Gandhi on a live show.
Consider yourself warned, Aaditya. It doesn’t take long for youth to be dismissed in India’s geriatric politics. We forgive the old netas for much more and are less generous toward the young.
But then, Aaditya Thackeray is quickly reinventing how young politicians can appeal to the youth — 50 per cent of India’s demography. Aaditya has been instrumental in pushing for a better nightlife in Mumbai by allowing later hours and lighter restrictions for people to party. With the example of New York and London, he pitches the idea of a vibrant nightlife for a better economy. It can’t get more millennial than that.
However, Aaditya Thackeray’s politics isn’t without irony. He spoke against the cutting down of Aarey Forest trees for a metro car shed while his party Shiv Sena was in the very government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that was instrumental in felling the trees.
Practising secularism for a change
But perhaps Aaditya’s ‘yuppie-ness’ is the makeover the party needed. Actually, this is a contrast to Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party’s image. Rahul needed to show he is aam aadmi and shed his ‘yuppie-ness’ by doing MGNREGA labour work years ago and sleepovers in rural homes. But all that Aaditya needs to do is show he is not a violent vandaliser of cinema halls and shops.
In the run-up to the 2019 Maharashtra assembly election, we saw the Shiv Sena once again play the Hindutva card by demanding the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. However, the party made the biggest mistake here. Shiv Sena has been the party of the ‘Marathi Manus’ – the guys who beat up Biharis and ‘UP ke bhaiyas’ in Maharashtra to show them who is the boss. By turning to Hindutva, Sena strayed away from the Marathis.
Now, Maharashtra only had to choose between a regional party offering Hindutva and a national party offering Hindutva. No one can beat the BJP at Hindutva, which is why Shiv Sena would’ve been defeated after this election, even if it was in the government this term.
The Shiv Sena, though reportedly reluctant initially, now stands by a common minimum programme that claims to uphold “secular” values. This is a first for the Shiv Sena since it was founded in 1966 because it has never been secular.
But then it has promised jobs for local people, and with that, the Shiv Sena has once again brought the Marathi people at the centre of its agenda and set it itself apart from the BJP. No, Shiv Sena is no longer just Maharashtra’s ‘BJP lite’.
It is here in this Venn diagram of Hindutva Lite, secular and Marathi Manus that Aaditya Thackeray can reinvent the Shiv Sena, and himself.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.