Mumbai, Nov 26 : From being an ace shutter-bug to a reticent politician, today Shiv Sena President Uddhav B. Thackeray is in the national limelight and on the threshold of making history — becoming the first member of the states prominent political family to hold the top post of Chief Minister — on Tuesday.
Few would have imagined that the 59-year old with a soft exterior, comfy in his striking kurta-pyjamas, adept with his beloved camera, was actually tough as a tiger inside, and a chip off the old block (the late Bal Thackeray).
In the past four weeks of unprecedented political crisis in Maharashtra, he pranced and pounced towards the final kill, even as the Sena was threatened with virtual oblivion after its 30-year-old ally Bharatiya Janata Party dumped it and dismissed it from the NDA.
For the ultimate target — about which he was always reluctant, but reportedly prodded by his wife Rashmi (they had a love marriage) — and pushed by both the new allies, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress, he finally steeled himself mentally to achieve the promise made to his father — that he would one day install a Shiv Sainik as the state CM.
This time, there was a bonus. The Shiv Sainik was none other than a Thackeray family member, with the young cub, Aditya Thackeray elected as MLA (Worli, Mumbai), and probably a crown-prince to the state throne.
As it happens with scions of big political families, the biggest challenge he encountered as Bal Thackeray’s political heir was stepping out of his father’s shadows, which he managed exceedingly well since 2014.
According to a close aide, after the Sena was ensconced cosy with the BJP in the first term, he soon realized that it was a harrowing and often a humiliating alliance with the BJP, which needed to be corrected, despite their common ideologies.
He quickly winked at his trusted friend and Sena MP, Sanjay Raut, executive editor of the party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ — who immediately launched a one-man paper army against the entire BJP, which Thackeray had himself scorned as ‘Afzal Khan-ki fauj’ in the 2014 elections.
From then, Thackeray launched a veritable proxy-war through his ‘paper tiger’ Raut, with no holy cows — be it Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President (now, Union Home Minister) Amit Shah, cabinet ministers, or even the alliance Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra.
The subjects were as varied as the targets — be it the Ram temple, demonetization disaster, BJP leaders trooping down for state elections, the PM’s foreign jaunts, the BJP’s alleged hypocrisy on various issues such as allying with Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu & Kashmir, runaway inflation, the unresolved problems of dying farmers, et al, as the BJP cringed and cowered but remained quiet, for obvious reasons.
It was only when he insisted on the post of CM for the Sena after the Oct. 2019 elections that the BJP bared its fangs and virtually called him a “liar” — and the crouching tiger in Thackeray sprang out of it lair.
As an open political war raged, the BJP broke off its ties, threw it out of the NDA, changed its seating arrangements in Parliament, most Shiv Sainiks were resigned to what they felt was the “beginning of the end of the Sena”.
But, Thackeray came up with another surprise – hugging his erstwhile sworn enemies, the NCP and Congress!
That has not only revived the spirit of the Shiv Sainiks, but catapulted the 53-year-old Sena (founded 1966) to its much-beloved status of ‘Big Brother in Maharashtra’ which the BJP always ridiculed privately.
Albeit, guided by the wily old fox Sharad Pawar and the furtive leaders of the Congress, Thackeray is now on way to discarding the family’s remote control over the government to becoming the government himself.
As the respected ‘Shiv Sena Pramukh’, he is considered quite balanced in his political approach to problems, modern, tech-savvy with a tablet always close at hand, all the finer aspects of state politics at his finger-tips, a patient listener who always gives the other person a chance to rave and rant – in short, a ‘Mr. Cool’.
Born on July 27, 1960 to the late Balasaheb Thackeray and Meenatai, he was the third sibling after Bindumadhav (Binda), and Jaidev.
His fond uncle, the late Shrikant Thackeray (father of estranged cousin Raj Thackeray) had nicknamed him ‘Dinga’ and incidentally, both the cousins’ moms were sisters (Meenatai and Kunda), while one doting aunt called him ‘Shravanbal’ or an ideal son, as he was the most obedient among the clan’s kids.
Both Uddhav and Raj graduated from the famous portals of Sir J. J. School of Arts, and while Uddhav is an accomplished photographer specializing in aerial and wildlife photography with two published collections to his credit, Raj is a famous political cartoonist.
In the mid-1990s, when the first Shiv Sena government headed by CM Manohar Joshi and later CM Narayan Rane was in power with the BJP as the junior partner, the two cousins cut their political teeth accompanying Bal Thackeray to various public events and rallies.
Later in 2003, Raj proposed Uddhav for Sena Executive President at the party conclave at Mahabaleshwar, but the duo could not stick together and Raj left the party and ‘Matoshri’ to found his independent Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Gradually, under his ageing father’s tutelage, Thackeray got a firm grip over the party, kept alive Pa’s tradition of addressing the annual Dassehra rally, and promised him that one day, the Shiv Sena flag would again flutter over Mantralaya.
Seven years after his father’s demise, Thackeray has fulfilled that promise, and a Shiv Sena Pramukh is all set to be the proud CM of the state, once lorded over by the revered Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: [email protected])