Mumbai: The death of saffron outfit's patriarch Bal Thackeray has sparked off speculation about Shiv Sena's future.
People in the political circles are concerned about the existence of a Shiv Sena without its authoritarian embodiment Sr. Thackeray, who passed away at his house Matoshree in Mumbai on Saturday.
Thackeray, who founded the Shiv Sena in 1966, had not been keeping well and had recently asked party workers via a recorded video message to support his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya.
His call to the Marathi manoos to remain united and smash the Congress was perceived as an appeal to his estranged nephew, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, to join forces with the Shiv Sena.
Raj vs Uddhav
Uddhav and Raj have emerged as the younger voices of the party, as well as possible heirs to the patriarch’s legacy. While a reclusive Uddhav kept away from the public eye, the fiery, elegant and popular Raj fast came to be seen as his uncle’s fitting successor.
But the Shiv Sena supremo silenced popular speculation by anointing his son Uddhav the party’s working president in 2004, decidedly settling the issue of succession. This ended Raj’s chances of heading the Shiv Sena and discord developed rapidly between the two. In December 2005, Raj quit the Shiv Sena, claiming he had “suffered” in the party.
After a state-wide tour, in March 2006, Raj announced the formation of a new political party, the MNS. The new party is pledged to the building of a vibrant, dynamic Maharashtra. At age 38, Raj is busy cultivating the image of a thinking young politician, open to the changing times and considerate towards Dalits and Muslim minorities, quite unlike the firebrand Hindu parochialism of Bal Thackeray’s party.
With Uddhav undergoing angioplasty twice in recent days, speculation is strong that Raj has emerged as the top contender for the post.
Raj Thackeray’s visit to his uncle’s residence ‘Matoshree’ (his third in four months) a day after the Dussehra rally assumed significance, following Uddhav Thackeray’s health concerns after an angioplasty.
According to reports, the choice between Uddhav and Raj has always remained a sore point that has affected the chances of a merger.
During the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections, the Shiv Sena would be out of power for 15 years. The overworked theory of the MNS' merger with the Sena still seems a remote possibility, despite a perceived thaw.
A major problem with the Sena is that it has carried on as a monolithic party since its inception, with Sr. Thackeray’s shadow overwhelming all and one concerned. Other faces, except for his son have barely been given any opportunity to showcase themselves, causing a lack of visibility and a serious disconnect at the grass roots level, a report in the Hindu said.
Will Raj shake hands with estranged family?
When Raj rushed to his ailing cousin’s side and when Uddhav returned the gesture by backing MNS morcha, tongues were set wagging. Have the warring cousins decided to bury the hatchet?
Outside the headquarters of the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), a senior Sena leader from Central Mumbai looks pensive. “Any patch-up between the Thackeray cousins will be a game changer in the  general elections,” he predicts. “But, will such a thing really happen?”
A senior MNS functionary from the western suburbs says many in the party want an end to the hostility between their leader Raj and Shiv Sena’s executive president Uddhav.“Joining hands may make it easier for us to gain power.”
What next for BJP after Sr. Thackeray
As the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance is in existence at the state and national level as well, the BJP will have to put its own troubled house in order fast and concentrate more on staying relevant in the fast-changing political scenario.
Loyalties are divided in the BJP between party chief Nitin Gadkari and senior leader Gopinath Munde, and the two camps have been at each other for long now.
It may be that the Shiv Sena needs a more internally united party than the BJP as part of the alliance that will go to the polls in Nanded, but leaders from both the Shiv Sena and the MNS say the thawing of relations between Raj and Uddhav are the result of Sr. Thackeray taking the initiative to bring the cousins together.
Munde, who had spoken in favour of joining hands with the MNS, has now avoided any comment.
Dissidence within the Shiv Sena manifested with Chhagan Bhujbal leaving the party in 1991. Since 2005, the party has been crippled by a string of exits. First it was Sanjay Nirupam, MP who controlled the party’s north Indian vote bank, followed by Narayan Rane less than three months later and culminating in Raj launching the MNS.
(With inputs from Mid-Day, The Hindu, Himal Southasian)