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Thackerays shine as Shiv Sena turns ruler from rebel, but party makes ‘zero political gains’

There’s been no political gain for Shiv Sena despite being in power as only the Thackerays’ have been visible, while other Sena ministers and cadre have been in the shadows.

Uddhav Thackeray along with son Aaditya Thackeray | PTI file image
Uddhav Thackeray along with son Aaditya Thackeray | PTI file image

New Delhi: Last year, on Shiv Sena’s 53rd foundation day, the party’s mouthpiece, Saamana, carried an editorial saying there will be a Sena CM next year — amid bickering between the Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over who gets the chief minister’s office if the alliance returns to power.

A year later, as the party turns 54 on 19 June, Saamana’s words ring prophetic. Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray is at the state’s helm, heading a coalition of the Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

But even as the party has transitioned from rebel to ruler, and from playing second fiddle to the BJP to leading the tripartite alliance, the metamorphosis hasn’t brought the Shiv Sena any tangible political gains.  

Party leaders say that the Sena hasn’t got a taste of really heading the government yet because the Covid-19 crisis hit just as it was settling down in the state. Political watchers, however, say the dominance of the Thackeray family within the government, absence of party workers on the streets in time of crisis and early chinks in the three-party coalition have limited the party’s ability to benefit from being in power.

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Father-son shine, party in the shadows 

The Shiv Sena, which emerged as the second-largest party in the 2019 Maharashtra assembly election with 56 seats, snapped its pre-poll alliance with the BJP and joined hands with the opposition Congress and the NCP instead to form a Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government. Thackeray swore in NCP’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy CM. However, he is seen more with son Aaditya Thackeray at government events than Pawar or even any other Shiv Sena minister for that matter.

“The Shiv Sena was always anti-establishment even when it was in the government with the BJP, and while everyone expected that the narrative will eventually hurt the Shiv Sena, it turned out to be beneficial for the party after the 2019 election results,” political analyst Hemant Desai said.  

“Despite there being a Shiv Sena-led government now, the Sena as a party seems to be getting weaker, however, CM Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya Thackeray have developed a strong image,” he added. 

Thirty-year-old Aaditya is a minister in Uddhav’s cabinet, handling portfolios such as tourism and environment. Despite being a first-time MLA and the youngest minister in the 43-member cabinet, Aaditya sits right behind his father in the state legislative assembly and attends several significant meetings and official tours. 

For instance, earlier this month, Aaditya accompanied his father to the Raigad district for an assessment of the damage caused by Cyclone Nisarga.  

Desai said that in the first Shiv Sena government, from 1995-1999, senior party leaders such as Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane (who was then with the party) were visible though the government was remotely controlled by party founder Bal Thackeray.   

“Now with the exception of Eknath Shinde, who is seen and heard mostly on issues pertaining to his district Thane, only Aaditya and Uddhav are visible. None of the other Shiv Sena ministers in the cabinet are seen or heard too much,” he added. 

Pratap Sarnaik, a senior Shiv Sena MLA, brushed off the criticism, saying it seems that way because of how the party is structured.

“Uddhav saheb and Aaditya are the Shiv Sena. Uddhav saheb is the whole and sole of the party and while he consults party members, his decision is final. In other parties, a CM has to first ask ten people before taking a final decision,” Sarnaik said. 

Govt mostly runs from Matoshree

Ever since he took over as CM, Uddhav has mostly been operating from his suburban Mumbai residence, Matoshree, with his short list of confidantes – son Aaditya, wife Rashmi Thackeray and at times personal assistant and party secretary Milind Narvekar and his go-to Sena functionary Anil Parab.

A senior Shiv Sena leader said party members have to watch their words while speaking publicly about the government. “We don’t want to get into trouble with the high command,” said the leader who did not wish to be named. 

Fadnavis, now the leader of the opposition, has criticised Uddhav for relying heavily on civil servants and indecisiveness, amid mounting Covid-19 cases. Maharashtra has the highest number of positive cases in the country with the tally reaching 1,13,445 on 16 June. 

Besides, just a few months after being in power, the Sena is also faced with cracks in the three-legged coalition that it spearheads. Senior Congress leaders, who are members of Uddhav’s cabinet, grumble about not being consulted in decision-making, much like the Sena did when it was the BJP’s junior administrative partner for the last five years. 

 Saamana, which used to lash out at the BJP for the same reasons, now shrugs off the Congress’ quibbles by calling the party an “old cot that creaks too much”. 

Sena absent from the streets

The Shiv Sena is known to hit the streets, using its extensive network of shakhas and foot soldiers, every time there is a crisis. Earlier this month, Uddhav even directed party workers to convert the shakhas into clinics to be run in collaboration with private doctors.  

However, political commentator Prakash Bal feels this time the Sena wasn’t seen at the forefront to help people as the Covid-19 crisis snowballed. “Individually, many Shiv Sena leaders have been doing relief work in their own names, but as a party, Thackeray failed to activate the party machinery to work along with the government,” Bal said.  

“In seven months, if we ask what has Shiv Sena gained as a party from being in the government, the answer is a big zero,” Bal added. 

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