Uddhav is persistent. But will his patience and vision be enough to glue the interests of both Congress and NCP?
Uddhav Thackeray may not be as flamboyant as his father and Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray but was hand-held by him in lessons of fearlessness. Stories abound of how Thackeray senior, a fan of herpetology, introduced him to a world of snakes and reptiles. Politics is nothing but a snake pit and Uddhav, therefore, comes suitably prepared for the slithery swamp that the new Maharashtra alliance he is leading with the Nationalist Party Congress (NCP) and the Congress could become. The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi is a melange of ideologies. Ideologies that have made it through the elections by positing themselves against each other. But Uddhav has survived every time, wriggling around problems and biting, too, at rivals when needed. But with a studied, reasoned crawl rather than a race. Post Balasaheb, he has quietly helmed the Sena, which was preyed on by an aggressive BJP eager to expand its footprint. And then compromised by his cousin, the charismatic Raj, who people believe is more like Thackeray senior, but had to be content with a rebellious outfit. The Sena may have chosen the BJP as a convenient ally but has always been its watchdog, particularly cornering it on unkept promises and maintaining the big push on Hindutva’s symbolism, Ayodhya. There was a time when everybody had begun to believe that the Sena would be wiped out in the face of the BJP’s onslaught and at best could be a tag-along. Yet, Uddhav held on to the job he knew and cultivated the Marathi pride to get 56 seats, creditable enough to bargain with the BJP, which had slumped to 105. Although many wondered if the Sena was using a bit of fair weather to push for chief ministership, Uddhav kept on insisting that the “son of Balasaheb never lies” and that a rotational chief ministership was indeed discussed with the BJP in pre-poll talks. The BJP, while denying ever promising this, did shuffle its feet on whether it was discussed at all. Uddhav persisted till his claim rang sincere. And for all the poaching expeditions that characterise opportunistic coalitions, Uddhav’s men did not desert him and held fort with a Shivaji-like defiance. Neither did they hold a State to ransom with agitations and strikes to press home their point, knowing full well that if NCP indeed propped up the BJP instead, the party would wilt away under the BJP’s vindictive backlash. It is this quiet patience that might be recontouring the Sena in the long term.
Many questions are being asked of Uddhav, the predictable one being on softening up the Sena’s core Hindutva and agreeing to uphold secularism. Remember Sena has been vociferous about removing the word “secular” from the Constitution. Critics are saying that he has given too wide a berth to the Congress on this count although that party is not exactly owning the Aghadi while agreeing to join the Government. But Uddhav had anyway changed course for a while, trying to broadbase the Sena among Dalits and youth. By launching the Mee Mumbaikar campaign almost a decade ago — in which all Maharashtrians (officially defined as all those living in the State for over 15 years) were included — Uddhav had already begun the process of urban acceptability and championing citizens’ rights. He certainly doesn’t want the Sena to be remembered as a disruptor with a nuisance value any longer. He wants to be a doer though he lacks the administrative experience. And here, he will have a certain dependency on both the Congress and NCP chief Sharad Pawar while negotiating the tricky territory between portfolio management and core Sena interests. Although the State is on the higher-performance list, Uddhav has a tough challenge in settling the rural economy. Unseasonal rains and drought conditions have impacted farmers, who want immediate relief. The new Government can look at loan waivers as just a short-term measure but must initiate agriculture reforms that would help farmers plan their crops better, grow them sustainably and get the right prices. Then there is the joblessness, particularly among the youth. Although the State is home to migrant workers, there will be added pressure on the Sena-led government to secure the interests of local job aspirants. Besides, given the Sena hold on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), it could be weighed down by expectations of an overnight urban renewal. Of course, Uddhav also has to take one day at a time, as he prepares to sail past the floor test. His national allies could pull the plug if things don’t go their way. But then Uddhav, the photographer, has a lens eye view of things. He needs to use the telescope lens now. And act in the present. Whether he lasts or not, he has created a political disruption nationally and coalesced an anti-BJP sentiment into a real counter challenge. At least he has blitzed the BJP’s magic manipulator Amit Shah.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)