When Shiv Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray said he will contest the Maharashtra state assembly elections from Mumbai’s Worli constituency, he was defying a family tradition and party history. His grandfather Balasaheb Thackeray had said politics is like eczema way back in 1966. When the first BJP-Shiv Sena government was formed in 1995, Balasaheb said he held its remote control.
Bal Thackeray never fought any election, nor did his son Shiv Sena Paksha Pramukh Uddhav Thackeray. Aaditya, 29, is the first member of the Thackeray family who has entered the electoral arena.
Shiv Sena’s plan now
After Shiv Sena was formed on 19 June 1966, it organised its first Dasara Melava at Shivaji Park, Mumbai. A huge crowd gathered. Maharashtra’s leading social reformer Prabodhankar Thackeray said: “Today I am giving my son to you all!” His son was Bal Thackeray, who vowed to undertake 80 per cent social work and 20 per cent politics. But the very next year, the Shiv Sena fought for the Thane corporation election.
The desire to stay away from power and be the power behind the throne changed over the years. Balasaheb’s son Uddhav entered politics in the 1990s. It has been said that he wanted to become chief minister in 1999. But at that time, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance couldn’t form the government.
In the 2014 assembly elections, the BJP and the Shiv Sena fought separately. Before that election, in 2012, Balasaheb had appealed to Shiv sainiks to take care of Uddhav and Aaditya. Last week, Uddhav Thackeray said at a party conclave that he had promised his father that one day he would make a sainik the chief minister of Maharashtra. At a gathering in Worli, Saamana editor and Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said that the Chandrayaan-2 couldn’t land on the moon, but the Shiv Sena will ensure that Aaditya (which means sun) reaches the sixth floor of the mantralaya (CM’s office) on 21 October.
Charting a different path
In the 288-seat Maharashtra assembly, the Shiv Sena is contesting 126 seats, the BJP 144 and the rest will be given to allies. There is no possibility of Aaditya Thackeray becoming the chief minister this time. It was being said that the Shiv Sena will get a deputy-chief ministership. But this claim was also squashed by BJP state president Chandrakant Dada Patil. Despite that, Aaditya Thackeray’s candidature has enthused the cadre.
Aaditya is not shying away from the Kurukshetra of elections. He had shown his desire to enter Parliament earlier as well. Balasaheb used to condemn democratic processes and praise the dictatorship of Hitler. But Aaditya Thackeray’s brand of politics, while totally different, is an interesting mix of old and new.
Shiv Sena always violently opposed Valentine’s Day, but Aaditya didn’t. Although he did get Mumbai University to remove Rohinton Mistry’s book Such a Long Journey from its syllabus in 2010 because he said it insulted the Marathi Manoos. He also made a pitch for the nightlife in Mumbai. Aaditya supported former model Dino Morea’s open gyms at Marine Lines and Wadala. He strongly protested the felling of trees in the Aarey forest for the Metro car shed. In the past, the Shiv Sena launched agitations against south Indians, Gujaratis, Biharis, UP ‘bhaiyas’ and Muslims during the Bhiwandi, Aurangabad and Mumbai riots. Aaditya is trying to change the narrative of the Shiv Sena.
At the Worli meeting, Aaditya Thackeray said, “This is the right time to work towards eliminating discrimination based on caste, language and religion”. Aaditya is aspiring to create a New Maharashtra that is secure, literate, unemployment-free, pollution-free and debt-free. At that rally, he did not utter a single word about Ram Mandir, Kashmir’s Article 370, Pakistan or Muslims. This certainly is a welcome change in the Shiv Sena’s leadership. Recently, he undertook a jan ashirwad yatra across Maharashtra. He made an effort to understand the problems of rural as well as urban Maharashtra. Aaditya’s current Worli constituency has slums, chawls and Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Marwadi voters.
His posters in Worli are not in the typical Shiv Sena style. The text reads “How are you Worli?” in more than five languages including Gujarati, Urdu and Hindi. His campaign is designed by poll strategist Prashant Kishore. Shiv Sena’s style is aggressive and many times, abusive too. Aaditya has chosen a different path altogether. He has chosen Worli with an aim to reach out to a variety of people. He wants to change the ‘only for Marathi Manoos’ line of his party.
A younger look
Aaditya Thackeray has studied in Bombay Scottish School and attended St Xavier College and K.C. Law College. He speaks fluent English. He also writes poems in English. His image is of a soft-spoken, modest and a modern multilingual leader. He moves around in the upper-middle and elite circle of Maharashtra.
Traditionally, Shiv sainiks were not well-educated or sophisticated. They just obey the orders of the Shiv Sena Paksha Pramukh. They don’t think much and believe in ‘direct action’. But things are changing. Young Shiv sainiks and sympathisers of the party are much more qualified now. Maharashtra is urbanizing rapidly. That is why Aaditya is constantly saying that he aims for ‘New Maharashtra’.
The BJP leadership is in the hands of young leaders like CM Devendra Fadnavis. The NCP is projecting leaders like young actor Amol Kolhe and Sharad Pawar’s grandnephew Rohit Pawar. But the Congress leadership is old, outdated and has failed to reinvent itself. If the face of a regressive and ‘gunda’ party like the Shiv Sena is changing, it is good news.
The author is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.