Uddhav: The Reluctant Tiger

Right alongside the mirror in Matoshree’s bathroom, there must be a sticker of the party emblem — the tiger and a placard that would have the words ‘growwllll’ etched on them. The purpose of the two is simply to remind Uddhav Thackeray his lineage, and to imbibe the ‘killer instinct’ in him that the Thackerays are so much renowned for. Somehow Uddhav, the youngest of the Bal Keshav Thackeray clan, was a misfit in the family and hence he needs to be constantly reminded of who he is and what he must pose. The latest episode involving the mud-slinging with Rahul Gandhi and Shahrukh Khan is an illustration of the same fact, the display of false paws.

Some are born great and some have greatness thrust upon them, goes the adage and Uddhav is a living testament to that. Till about 2002, little was known about Uddhav except that he liked photography and yes that he was the youngest  son of the ‘remote control’ of one of the most vituperative Hindu leader. The bespectacled almost impish Uddhav preferred to do his bit, snap tigers in the wild, or shoot forts in Maharashtra from a helicopter.Uddhav, whose name means the brother of Krishna, was quiet happy to lead a non-descript life with his two sons. Since, he happened to be at the vortex of power, he could barely afford the privilege of a profession. So, he was content hosting his photo exhibitions now and then and living it out at his idyllic farm house in Karjat. Unlike his elder brothers, Jaidev and Binda, who were either spoilt by the allure of power or caught in a web of indulgences, Uddhav kept away from both politics and business. In a way, youngest Thackeray seemed to have inherited more from his mother Meena Thackeray, a warm and genile persona that shielded an iron will.

Yet, for all his desires to be away from the dust and grime of politics, he was destined for it. With the death of his brother Binda Thackeray in a car accident, his mother Meenatai in a cardiac arrest and relationship souring between Jaidev and senior Thackeray, his ageing father had no shoulder to lean on, except Uddhav’s. Though, there was indeed Uddhav’s cousin and Balasaheb’s nephew Raj, who had completely imbibed his uncle not only in the way he looked, but also the way he spoke, he thought and he reacted. Raj also had a keen business mind, and was not averse to using any means to achieve his ends. The Ramesh Kini murder case was an example, Raj was accused of threatening and subsequent murder of Ramesh Kini for a real estate deal. Raj over the years, under the aegis of Balasaheb had become the de-facto heir, whose anointment was just a matter of time. But destiny had other plans for him as well.

Once, the Shiv Sena (in conjunction with BJP) had tasted power, they were keen to hold on to it. In fact, before the saffron combine took over the Maharashtra state legislature in 1995, Shiv Sena were just a band of ruffians that were content to terrorise real-estate barons and business people and exhort money from them. But on ascending the CM’s chair, this band of ruffians suddenly realised that the real riches lay elsewhere and what they had been all the time dealing was merely a drop in front of the ocean of opportunity that lay in front. After 5 years in power they were badly itching to be back. Power was undeniably a great intoxicant and now that the ruffians had tasted it, they could not stay away from it.

Age was catching up with the Sena patriarch, his health deteorating fast and he could sense the discontent around him, out of power it has hard to hold this bloodthirsty horde. Uddhav came to the aid of his father, he started taking interest in the affairs of the party and playing an active role. Because of his genial and shy nature Uddhav preferred to play a more administrative role. Shiv Sena that had formed in the 60s had over a period of time become a jumble of shakas and vibhags, ruled by the various pramukhs. While outwardly there seemed order, internally it was dissension, for instance each municipal ward had a Shakha, and a multitude of them made up for a legislative assembly vibhag. And at most of these places, there were powerful satraps who over a period of time had come to lord the various shakhas or vibhags aligning themselves with the high and mighty in the Sena. Thus essentially there was much madness in the Sena work methodology.
Uddhav immediately got to the brass tacks; put an organization in order, digitizing all of them, working on making a database of the electorate, getting the website up and running, putting in place a SMS gateway, infusing new blood into the party, chopping of dead wood, etc. He also centralised the functioning of the party, the power centre shifted from Matoshree to the new swanky rebuilt head office in Dadar. Much of his actions while liked by the workers of the party, were disliked by the leaders, especially those that believed themselves to be the real inheritors of the Thackeray legacy, like Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray. While he was working backdoor, there were snide comments being passed about the ‘corporatisation’ of the party and how Uddhav was too timid to be a leader. Timid, he might not be but shrewd he sure was.
Shiv Sena wresting the control of BMC, the richest municipal corporation in India, in 2002 was the biggest feather in Uddhav’s camp, because it was he that clinically chose the candidates and worked out the strategy. Enthused by the victory, Shiv Sena upped the Marathi manoos ante. Around the same time, Uddhav launched the ‘Mee Mumbaikaar’ campaign, which spoke about how the city of Mumbai belonged to the people who were concerned about it and felt it as its own. At the very onset, Uddhav had made it clear that he was not against any particular group or section, but against those that did not care about the city, like the hordes of immigrants from Bangladesh. To show him in a poor light, cousin Raj started to display his derring-do, with his cohorts attacking their favourite targets the North Indian students appearing for Railway exams in Mumbai. By this action, Raj wanted to show to the Sena echelons that he was the real heir to the legacy. The stage was set for the final war of the cousins.
Over the next year or so, the attacks on Uddhav intensified both within the organization and outside it. Since, he personally did not approve of strong-arm tactics; he started to weed out the party men who were only there because of their clout. The biggest challenge came from the Konkan big man and ex-chief minister Narayan Rane. Throughout the time, Uddhav kept a sane head and did not respond to the below-the-belt barbs of Rane. Finally, in 2005, Balasaheb took the decision and Rane was kicked out of Sena. He thundered and roared promising to break the Sena. Indeed, initially, he did cause significant dent, especially in the Konkan region, but then all his nominees started to lose elections and then in 2007 he was unable to stop the Shiv Sena and BJP combine from coming into power in the BMC yet again. Narayan Rane, the strongman of Sena was of little consequence to the party.
When Raj Thackeray realised that the Sena crown will ultimately go to Uddhav, he started to weigh his options. While, Narayan Rane could easily change his stripes and join the Congress, Raj could not. Also, since Sharad Pawar was still friends with Balasaheb, NCP could not be an alternative. So,starting 2005, Raj went into a sulk, sending dubious signals to all around by holding closed door meeting all across. Finally towards the end of 2005, he resigned from the Sena and a few months later he launched MNS. The cause and the electorate of MNS were no different from that of the Sena, namely the Marathi Manoos. Except that Raj was quite ready to woo the Muslims quite unlike his uncle. The fact that around the same time, his friend and co-conspirator Narayan Rane was in the Congress helped matters as well. Congress was ready to look the other way as Raj got underway hijacking the Marathi Manoos plank from the Sena. For Congress it was a win-win scenario, first the traditional vote bank of the Sena would be broken up by the incumbent, namely the dominant Maratha community thus making the Dalit-Muslim combination more potent and secondly, in a bid to outdo each other both MNS and Sena will drive the rest of the non-marathis straight into the arms of Congress, leading to a consolidation of non-Marathi votes. Thus, the Congress let Raj grow, looking the other way at his insinuations and debasement of politics. Ignorance is a very potent strategy in politics.
More than the exit of Raj, it was the launch of MNS that hurt Shiv Sena most, as the new party tried to espouse its Marathi credentials. Raj brought his histrionics to the fore, and went all out against the very roots that nurtured him. Uddhav, not accustomed to such brow-beat decided to focus on the real development issues and let Raj be. So, when the farmers in Vidharbha were consuming pesticides and killing themselves, he toured the region extensively and tried to highlight their issues in the legislature. Shiv Sena was changing under the new command; it was becoming sensitive of its role as a party raking up issues of price rise, etc. In fact, Uddhav was the only mainstream leader in Maharashtra who was talking about the development issues like shortage of power, agricultural maladies, etc. His development agenda unnerved the other leaders, and the only way they could divert him was through a direct attack on his fortress, the Marathi vote bank. And Raj was more than willing to oblige.
Elections 2009 can easily be termed as a turning point in the history of Maharashtra. In spite of all the spade work put in by Uddhav, Shiv Sena was drubbed in the elections; a major blame of the same should go to its partner BJP that seemed completely clueless about it. And more importantly, the devious Congress strategy worked well, MNS was indeed able to put a spanner in the saffron wheels. Results, the Congress-NCP came back to power, in spite of complete misrule and anarchism. Also, the fact that delimitation had happened at the same time, was a factor, since urban centres like Mumbai came  to account for as much as 33 seats. In most of the urban seats Shiv Sena lost badly because of the division of votes. Somehow it was also not able to capitalise on the work done in rural hinterland like Vidarbha, etc. If the victory in the corporation was a golden crown on Uddhav’s head , the loss of legislative polls was a crown of thorns.
Bad publicity if better than no publicity and that is most true in MNS’s case.  The media was quick to anoint Raj as a new tour-de force, many signalled it to be the end of Shiv Sena. The was much perturbance within the rank and file of the organization, especially after the humiliation of playing second fiddle to BJP in the state legislature. After quite many sentimental editorials in Saamna, Balasaheb decided to come out of his retirement, and decided to go back to the old attack-all tactics, Uddhav now was bereft of choices. Thus, Sena is trying to usurp the Marathi Manoos plank that had been hijacked by MNS, hitting out at Sachin Tendulkar, Mukesh Ambani, Shahrukh Khan and Rahul Gandhi, making mountains out of ant-hills.
Uddhav too threw his hat in the ring, by taking on Shahrukh Khan over his ‘Pakistani platitudes’ and threatening him with dire consequences. But he seemed to have bitten more than he could chew when he challenged Rahul Gandhi and barred him from Mumbai. The ease, with which Rahul came and went, showed how one-sided the confrontation was. There are 3 basic reasons for it; one Raj Thackeray has rather shrewdly always attacked people who cannot fight back, so it is the poor cabbies or autorickshaw wallahs. Or even the Bachchans, who are now in the Gandhi bad books. By doing so, Raj was able to display his strength without really having to prove it. Secondly, the state was always surreptitiously supporting Raj, thus while a plethora of cases were registered against him, nothing much was done to check his rank and file. So, while Raj used to go silent, his hoodlums used to do the talking. And finally, over the years under the aegis of Uddhav, Shiv Sena has lost much of its muscle-power, opting for mental power instead. Suddenly, when the need arose to block the streets, burn buses, or rampage establishments, there were not many Shiv Sainiks left who are capable of that. Most of the muscle-wallahs had migrated to MNS.
Hence, when Uddhav took on Shahrukh, a friend of the Gandhis, everyone came to his defence be it PC Chidambaram, the home minister, or the Maharashtra CM. In fact, when Rahul Gandhi visited Mumbai, CM Ashok Chavan had taken upon him to ensure the smooth running of his programs. Indeed he stood outside one venue in Ghatkopar for over an hour waiting for the young Gandhi Turk to arrive by train. Imagine the chief minister of a state like Maharashtra leaving all work, just to ensure that a Youth Congress function runs smoothly. Right now, Uddhav’s state is quite like another of Krishna’s friend in the epic Mahabharta; Abhimanyu. Under attack and siege from all sides.
Little wonder, Uddhav is compelled to go on the offensive and display his fierceness, because apparently that is what works and that is what sells. It not only a battle of relevance but also of survival for him. With the blessings of Congress, Raj Thackeray has almost taken up the mantle of Balasaheb, pushing the other cousin into the corner. Uddhav must be utterly confused, unable to come to terms that all the developmental agenda and spade work has come to a naught. And the fact that he is being blamed now for all the parochialism and regionalism, when through all his days at the helm( Sena did not carry out any non-Marathi attacks. Uddhav is a man who is weighed down by his own surname.
The way of the tiger is the only way left to him, Balasaheb through his editorials has signaled the same. Uddhav needs to pick and chose his targets like his cousin does; hit out at weaklings and not at the big-wigs. The fact that very soon Raj Thackeray will outgrow his utility for the Congress and become a liability is something that Uddhav can hope for. He also needs to work on the development agenda that he had started, because some day, surely the electorate will be able to see through the farce that is being played out and make a wise choice.
Yet, the biggest test for Uddhav lies in the future. The day his frail 84 year old father will leave for the heavenly abode. Till date, none of the opposition has ever hit out directly at the Sena out of respect for him, be it Narayan Rane, Sharad Pawar or even Raj Thackeray. The day that shield is gone, Uddhav will be ruthlessly attacked by the rest and he needs to ready himself for the same.
Gone are the tranquil days, when Uddhav used to enjoy his siesta post lunch and a session of badminton in the evening. These days, he must be spending more time in front of the mirror in Matoshree, growling at the reflection, wondering at what went wrong. If only he knew, that all tigers are not born alike.

(All the cartoons and images used in the post have been downloaded from the Net, using Google Images. They are merely for illustrative purposes and I claim no copyright over them (in fact, I barely recall where I downloaded them from).

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