Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Aaditya Thackeray just saved a 400-yr tree. Now he must shed his Page-3 image for Shiv Sena

Maharashtra and Shiv Sainiks won’t connect with a leader who is in the news because of Bollywood. Aaditya Thackeray needs to let his work speak.

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It is going to be almost one year since Shiv Sena’s rising star Aaditya Thackeray became Maharashtra’s tourism and environment minister. The fact that the BJP views him as a strong future opponent has been clear from the way its troll army has attacked him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. And #mumbaikapappu is the tag that the BJP wants to nail him with. But CM Uddhav Thackeray is eager to catapult the Shiv Sena into a party that can come to power without the crutches of the Congress, the NCP or the BJP, and Aaditya can make or break this plan.

In the past year, Aaditya Thackeray has saved a 400-year old banyan tree, responded quickly to Lata Mangeshkar’s desire for a music academy and pushed through legislations to turn Maharashtra into a Goa-style tourism hub. But the one thing he has not done is shed his celebrity circle. That Maharashtra experienced spiralling coronavirus infections hasn’t helped him either. But if the state government can get Maharashtra back on its feet and rev up India’s economic engine once again quickly, it would help the Shiv Sena.

The Sushant Singh case

On top of the Covid pandemic and Mumbai’s annual monsoon problem, the Sushant Singh Rajput case has seen many point fingers at the Shiv Sena leader. Even though former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said that no one from the BJP took Aaditya Thackeray’s name in the case, the reality is very different.

For the past three months, many state BJP leaders and spokespersons have been targeting Aaditya Thackeray. Maharashtra’s former CM and Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane held a press conference at the BJP’s office in Mumbai in August and alleged that the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was trying to protect somebody in the Sushant Singh case. His son and former MP Nilesh Rane has also continuously attacked Aaditya. In spite of the constant accusations against him in and outside Maharashtra, particularly on social media and TV channels, Aaditya Thackeray seems unaffected.

Also read: Why Saamana, once voice of only the Thackerays, is making space for Pawar & Fadnavis

Covid in Worli to monsoon rains

Aaditya Thackeray may have been the first from his family to stand for elections, but his constituency — Worli — has been in the deep end due to the coronavirus infection. Worli-Koliwada in Mumbai had become a hotspot in the first few weeks of March. It was also the city’s first containment zone.

Aaditya took the initiative and started a jumbo Covid centre in the NSCI dome in his constituency. These jumbo centres have been established in other parts of Mumbai and Pune too since then. With vigorous testing, tracing and isolation, the coronavirus infections were controlled in Worli. There was a collective effort by municipal employees, doctors, police and local citizens. The Worli Model was praised all over the state.

But though Aaditya can take credit for this success, he didn’t visit the jumbo centre much. And he never visited the BDD (Bombay Development Department) chawls. Aaditya is also the guardian minister for Mumbai’s suburbs, but he was rarely seen visiting them either. However, Aaditya has worked on fixing this image and coming across as a practical hands-on leader when it comes to civic issues.

When Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut supported the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s plan to take over some portions of the Wankhede Stadium and Brabourne Stadium and make them into a quarantine facility, Aaditya rightfully opposed it. He said, the stadiums become difficult to use during the monsoons because they have a mud ground.

In August and September, when there was heavy rainfall in Mumbai, Aaditya visited several areas with Mumbai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal.

Aaditya Thackeray, who led the Yuva Sena, the youth wing of the Shiv Sena, had also taken up the cause of students. The Yuva Sena moved the Supreme Court for cancellation of the final year university examinations, which was rejected.

Also read: How Aaditya Thackeray’s using Covid downtime to prep Maharashtra as post-pandemic tourist hub

Environment to tourism

The young Shiv Sena leader has also been busy in his role as Maharashtra’s environment minister. Often striking all the right notes with environmentalists.

Even before becoming a minister, Aaditya consistently supported the activists who were agitating against the Metro car shed construction that would result in cutting down of many trees in the Aarey Milk Colony. As the environment minister, he has committed himself to sustainable development and won many fans. In July this year, Aaditya Thackeray saved a 400-year-old banyan tree near Miraj in Sangli district from being cut down due to the Ratnagiri-Nagpur four-lane highway project. Aaditya had written a letter to Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, requesting him to save the tree, which was accepted.

He also wants a re-evaluation of the draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2020. Maharashtra has not seen such an active environmental minister in the last few years. He can even be compared with Congress’ Jairam Ramesh.

But it is Aaditya Thackeray’s role as the tourism minister that is creating the buzz in Maharashtra’s economy.

He wants to develop the Konkan region as a tourist destination. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has also started an internship programme for graduates. Aaditya wants to develop tribal tourism and the hospitality sector and create new employment opportunities. He is also launching the agri-tourism policy that will benefit farmers as well.

Also read: How politicians win and lose the trust of voters

A Page-3 minister

But no matter what he does, Aaditya Thackeray’s association with the celebrity club of Mumbai has always been used against him.

In Marathi newspaper Loksatta, actor Disha Patani had said that Aaditya was a friend of hers and she believes in his work. She has praised Aaditya’s ‘nightlife’ proposal for Mumbai. Aaditya’s friendship with Patani even cropped up during the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

When allegations were being made against Aaditya in the case, he only replied to it once. He tweeted that he was being wrongfully targeted and this was being done in utter desperation by his political opponents. He denied having anything to do with the case, saying he would do nothing to tarnish his party’s or the Thackeray family’s reputation.

Aaditya has also been criticised for not following through with his initiatives. As he is about to complete one year in the government, these complaints pile up.

Aaditya suggested that the BMC open gyms at various places in Mumbai. But the gyms were not maintained properly.

He has not looked after the party either. After becoming chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray isn’t expected to do organisational work in the Shiv Sena. A sort of lethargy has crept in the party. Aaditya should step up and motivate the party. But it is said that he confides more in people outside the Shiv Sena and does not work closely with party workers. If Aaditya wants Shiv Sena to win on its own in Maharashtra, he will have to work with all — and look beyond the celebrity circle.

To be seen as a CM-contender, Aaditya must tour all over Maharashtra, stand with the common people, step out and be a leader even during Covid. Even if his father Uddhav Thackeray is unable to.

A young minister like him should be active and mobile, with all the precautions.

Bal Thackeray also used to work mostly from home. But he was neither a minister nor a chief minister. He had charisma and was loved by every Shiv Sainik. Aaditya needs to change his Page-3 image if he envisions a larger role in politics. For Shiv Sainiks and Maharashtra.

The author is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. By joining hands with the CONgress & NCP, Sena is a party to Muslim appeasers. The Marathi vote is completely gone. Now, Sena is trying to pitch the ‘dead’ Marathi card. Time up. As for, the junior Thakeray, he is Pappu 2.

    • Still …. Shiv Sena identifies with Maharashtra and Mumbai. The BJP, Congress etc. do not. If the Shiv Sena does good work, then the people of Mumbai and Maharashtra will support them, and national parties will not stand a chance. Uddhav Thackeray has been working sincerely and has many of the qualities that are admirable in the Marathi Manoos. I was born outside Maharashtra but Mumbai is my home, since I lived there longer than in any other city. I have been abroad for almost 20 years ago …. but Mumbai (and Maharashtra and India) will always be home. Mumbai is the only city in India – still – where people come from all over to do well. Any party that does good work for the city and upholds the values of decency and patriotism will have our support.

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