Mumbai: The Shiv Sena has always been known as a political outfit with an expansive public outreach through its ward-level units from where its workers run an almost parallel administration system, taking note of people’s grievances and demands, and finding solutions.
However, in the era of political dialogue through organised programmes, such as ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and ‘Chai Pe Charcha’, the usually-conservative Shiv Sena has now moved to give itself a branding twist with events like ‘Aaditya Samvad’, ‘Friends of Aaditya’ and ‘Mauli Samvad’ — with a bit of advice from poll strategist Prashant Kishor.
“Every political party has to be seen among people in whatever form. It helps when senior leaders directly interact with people, listen to their suggestions and even find solutions on the spot by informing the respective ministers to take appropriate policy decisions,” said a Shiv Sena functionary.
Of the initiatives, ‘Aaditya Samvad’ is a platform where party leader and Yuva Sena head Aaditya Thackeray travels to different parts of Maharashtra and takes questions from students at scheduled events.
The event was launched before this year’s Lok Sabha elections, and is being continued as part of the 29-year-old’s ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra‘, during which the arts and law graduate aims to cover the entire state, reaching out to people about the work done by the Shiv Sena in the government and taking their feedback.
“Some events have been created out of a need expressed by certain sections of the society to have a dialogue and be part of the governance process. The ‘Friends of Aaditya’ initiative is one such example,” the Shiv Sena functionary quoted above said.
The leader added that while the party has always been in touch with the population at the grassroots, there wasn’t a structured way for interaction with middle-class urban professionals and many of them expressed their wish to collaborate and exchange ideas with Aaditya Thackeray. The Thackeray scion has been especially vocal on issues related to Mumbai such as open spaces, roads, drainage, recreational avenues, among others.
This collaboration took the form of ‘Friends of Aaditya’, a closed-door event by invitation attended by activists, entrepreneurs, academicians and experts from across sectors. The first such event was held on 18 August at Bandra.
‘Mauli Samvad’ is yet another event where Shiv Sena secretary Aadesh Bandekar, a popular Marathi television personality and a household name because of his show Home Minister, holds a dialogue with women from different parts of Maharashtra, addressing their issues. The party launched the first phase of this event on 2 August, while the second phase kicks off on Wednesday where Bandekar will travel for three days across North Maharashtra, holding ‘Mauli Samvad’ sessions.
How the ideas come up
A core in-house team of Shiv Sena and Yuva Sena leaders comprising seven to eight members chalks out the events under the outreach initiatives. Besides physical meetings, this team also has a group on messaging service WhatsApp to bounce off ideas, discuss and plan events, Sena leaders said.
A Sena leader said Prashant Kishor too has been advising the core team.
“His team helps with the on-ground data, advice on logistics, the constituencies to cover and gives an overall outlook. He especially helped us with Aaditya Samvad,” said the leader on condition of anonymity.
“But largely, all the ideation of what platforms to use and how to cover various regions and sections comes internally from within the team. The execution, planning routes, deciding spots where the tour will halt, and so on is also all done internally. Aaditya Thackeray is involved in the whole exercise with a hands-on approach,” the leader added.
Kishor, who has his own political advocacy platform, is credited with being instrumental in the election campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and crafting his victory in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In February, Kishor met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray at their residence Matoshree in Mumbai’s suburban Bandra. However, neither Kishor nor the Shiv Sena have formally commented on working together.
In July, Kishor had tweeted, “Ironically, these days I get to know where all I am working only through newspapers.”