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Why Uddhav’s son Tejas — ‘Viv Richards of family, finder of wild secrets’ — is creating a buzz

A full-page advertisement in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana by Uddhav’s right-hand man has set off speculation about a possible political leap by Tejas Thackeray, 26.

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Mumbai: On Saturday, as Tejas Thackeray, the younger son of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, turned 26, there was a sudden buzz that he might follow his elder brother, the 30-year-old Aaditya, into politics.

The speculation was sparked by a full-page advertisement in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamana, by Milind Narvekar, Uddhav’s right-hand man and his Officer on Special Duty.

The advertisement, which seeks to extend birthday greetings to Tejas, looks like a quintessential political campaign spread, complete with a blow-up of Tejas, alongside smaller photos of the Maharashtra chief minister, Tejas’ mother Rashmi Thackeray, and Aaditya on the top left, and the Shiv Sena logo on the top right. The advertisement was effusive in its birthday greeting, wishing “A very happy birthday to Thackeray family’s Vivian Richards (the former West Indies cricketer).”

Narvekar, who is also a Shiv Sena secretary, added to the speculation with another birthday wish for Tejas on Twitter with the words, “Ek ghaav don tukde”, which literally translates to ‘one strike, two pieces’, a phrase used to describe a person who takes bold and swift decisions.

For those familiar with the Thackerays and Maharashtra politics, the advertisements were a surprise. While Uddhav and Aaditya have been at the helm of both the government and the party, Tejas has, so far, pursued other interests.

A wildlife and photography enthusiast — hobbies he shares with his father — Tejas loves to spend time in the Western Ghats, as well as at Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey Colony. However, over the past few years, Tejas has intermittently been seen at political events even though he has preferred to keep a low profile.

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The conservationist 

Shiv Sena functionaries who have been visiting Matoshree, the Thackeray residence, for decades describe Tejas as “polite” and “reticent”.

“He just peeps into the meeting room for a moment, says ‘Jai Maharashtra’, and exchanges pleasantries with those of us he has seen around for a while, and that’s about it. He is not very talkative,” said a senior Shiv Sena functionary who did not want to be named.

“From the few mentions of him by Uddhav saheb, we have heard that Tejas can be very decisive and strong-headed too. But, I have never heard him discuss politics. His interest has always been wildlife, different species of fish, crabs, and so on,” he added.

When Tejas was 19 and a second-year arts student, he discovered five new species of freshwater crabs in the Sahyadris, old-timers said. One of them, the Gubernatoriana thackerayi, was named after him.

In 2018, he discovered 11 new species and one new genus of freshwater crabs in the Western Ghats. The following year, he discovered the ‘Hemidactylus thackerayi’, commonly known as ‘Thackeray’s Dwarf Gecko’ in the Eastern Ghats of Tamil Nadu.

The same year, Tejas was part of a team that discovered a new cat snake species — the first such discovery in 125 years — later called the ‘Boiga thackerayi’ or the Thackeray Cat Snake after him.

In October 2020, Tejas and his team discovered a new species of fish in the Sahyadri region or the Western Ghats, naming it the ‘Hiranyakeshi loach’. Though Tejas was instrumental in its discovery, this species of fish was named after the river Hiranyakeshi in which it was found.

Key role in ‘Save Aarey’ campaign

A fellow wildlife enthusiast of Tejas who did not wish to be named told ThePrint, “Tejas knows the Western Ghats region like the back of his hand. He is extremely modest and never wears his Thackeray identity on his sleeve. Whenever he is on the field, he lives in a village close to the jungle, eats there, interacts with the local residents.”

Confirming Tejas’ low key nature, he added that “even at Aarey Colony, he parks his car at one spot and walks around for hours with a very limited number of security guards trailing behind him. He has often caught forest department officials at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park by surprise, taking note of the situation on the ground and bringing issues to their notice.”

Last year, Tejas founded the non-profit Thackeray Wildlife Foundation in a bid to support research on lesser-known species of crabs, spiders, fish, and snakes. “As of now, Tejas is fully focussed on the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation. It doesn’t seem like politics is on his agenda,” the associate said.

Although not actively involved with the Shiv Sena, Tejas’ work is believed to have been the basis of some policy decisions taken by the Thackeray-led Maharashtra government. His research into the ecosystem of Goregaon’s Aarey Colony was a significant factor in the state government’s contentious decision to shift a Metro car shed out of the green space to an alternative location, an urban development expert involved in the decision had told ThePrint in October 2020.

The state government’s decision to give a conservation reserve tag for seven forests in the Western Ghats is also believed to have been influenced by Tejas’ groundwork and research in the region.

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In the political shadows

The rumour that Tejas might enter politics had surfaced earlier too — when he visited Shiv Sena shakhas with his father in December 2016, and when he accompanied the chief minister at a rally in Sangamner in the Ahmednagar district, ahead of the 2019 assembly polls.

In Sangamner, as he went on stage, the crowd had cheered, “Kon aala re kon aala, Shiv Sene cha wagh aala (Who is here? It is the Shiv Sena’s tiger).”

The chief minister in his address had, however, put paid to any speculation of his younger son joining politics. “He is a person who wanders in the jungle. He knows we don’t have any wild animals. They are on the other side,” Uddhav Thackeray had said in jest.

Tejas’ political appearances have nevertheless shown an uptick since 2019.

At one of Uddhav Thackeray’s campaign rallies in Kankavli in the Sindhudurg district that year, reporters requested the father and son to pose for a picture. The Shiv Sena president joked that he preferred not to be in the same frame as his son as Tejas is several inches taller than him and he would “need to stand on a stool for it”.

Tejas was present at a September 2019 gathering of the Shiv Sena. When Aaditya announced his candidature from Worli, he was caught on camera giving his brother a warm hug. He also accompanied Aaditya when we went to file his nomination for the 2019 assembly election from the Worli constituency.

In 2020, at the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) meeting where Uddhav Thackeray was chosen as the chief minister nominee, Tejas was present along with his entire family. He attended the swearing-in ceremony of his father as the Maharashra chief minister, later accompanying his parents and brother to Mumbai’s reputed Siddhivinayak Temple.

Political analyst Hemant Desai told ThePrint, “The birthday advertisement by Milind Narvekar could have been pure sycophancy, or it could have also been a way to light a spark and gauge the response to any discussions about Tejas entering active politics.”

“In due time, Uddhav Thackeray is also bound to think that when it comes to managing the party after him, two hands are always better than one,” he added.

So far, there has been no direct statement from either Tejas or his family members on whether he will go the family way and take the political plunge anytime soon.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

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