Uddhav Thackeray: The Reluctant Politician Who Finally Clinged to the Presidency Too Long

At 62, it’s the worst crisis that Uddhav Thackeray had to face in his short political life, emerging from the dominating shadow of Father Bal Thackeray. Not only does he have lost the chief ministry after taking a gamble with an unlikely coalition, he faces the prospect of losing control of a party founded by Balasaheb and drawing sustenance from Thackeray’s name.

Looking back, it seems that Uddhav sowed the seeds early on when, on November 28, 2019, he took office as Chief Minister. He thus became the first Thackeray to hold public office, with Balasaheb choosing to let a Sainik be CM despite holding full control of the party.

Amid celebrations and showers of rose petals, his supporters then warned Uddhav of the ensuing “power play” and “administrative” challenges leading an unlikely coalition, including former rivals the NCP and Congress.

The anger felt by many Sainiks over the move, combined with the decision to get rid of the former BJP ally, only seems to have deepened over time. Party workers felt unheard, a feeling that grew as Uddhav surrounded himself with a coterie and seemed to disappear into the Matoshree. Some of that distance was due to Covid and surgery which left Uddhav unfit for a long time, but there was no one to update the troops.

Rebel leader Eknath Shinde claimed to speak for many when he said, “We have never disrespected Uddhavji. We are the saniks of Balasaheb. We wanted the Sena to break its alliance with Congress and the NCP. Our fight is for the Hindutva of Balasaheb.

A graduate of the JJ Institute of Applied Arts, with photography as his major, Uddhav was seen as indifferent to politics. If he launched into it with hesitation in the early 1990s, he remained largely in the background while his cousin Raj Thackeray built his profile and his personality as a “natural successor” to Balasaheb.

However, as political history repeated once too often, the shrewd Sena pramukh had also finally chosen his son over his nephew. Uddhav’s appointment as executive chairman at a Mahabaleshwar convention in 2002 marked the turning point. Even then, as a sulky Raj lurked in the background and eventually left the Sena in 2005, Uddhav never really shook off that soft, low-key face that made him a leader far removed from the daily aggressive cadre that filled the Senna.

Some believe that it was his wife Rashmi who was the main driver of his ambition, except for his eldest son Aaditya, who has emerged to the fore in the current crisis. The other son, Tejas, is considered more interested in wildlife and environmental issues.

Still, Uddhav weathered many storms, including the exits of leader Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray. After Balasaheb’s death in 2012, he managed to keep the Sena together and proved the best of MNS. He also saw the Sena in power and on the other side, despite having a rocky relationship with the BJP.

A senior BJP official who requests anonymity admits: “After Balsaheb’s death, many wondered if Uddhav, who is not charismatic, would be able to keep the party together. But it has ensured its growth over the past two decades. However, he adds, “it is obvious that his decision to betray the BJP was not appreciated by many inside because it amounted to compromising Hindutva, which is the main agenda of its members” .

But the blame does not lie solely with Uddhav’s side, supporters say. The character of the BJP has changed since the era of hosting Gopinath Munde-Pramod Mahajan, especially with the rise of the party under Narendra Modi. In the 2014 Assembly elections, there was the first split between the two-decade-old partners, over differences over the sharing of seats. After the polls Uddhav shook hands with new BJP and CM star Devendra Fadnavis, the ties were never the same.

Earlier this year, at a party meeting, Uddhav said he had no choice but to part ways. “We have wholeheartedly supported the BJP, to enable it to realize its national ambitions. It was understood that they would become national while we were leading in Maharashtra. But we were betrayed and attempts were made to destroy us in our house. So we had to fight back. »

Uddhav also accused the BJP of dumping its allies out of political expediency. He said, “BJP does not mean Hindutva. I stand by my comment that the Shiv Sena wasted 25 years in alliance with the BJP.

However, it is doubtful that this post ever descended the ranks. For many, Uddhav’s resigned nature meant he felt more comfortable with Congress and the NCP, rather than the aggressive BJP. Even as the Sainiks squirmed, the message from the summit was also that of a more moderate party, with Aaditya in particular for “progressive” causes.

The NCP was portrayed as the villain of the play by Sena rebels, who claimed he called the shots in the MVA and starved them of funds. Others questioned Pawar’s advice to Uddhav to retain power, ultimately to no avail, rather than resign after it became clear the party had slipped out of his hands, which could have given him some morality.

However, the allies have only kind words for Uddhav. According to the head of the state’s NCP, Jayant Patil: “Our relations were cordial, there was mutual respect for each other. He was never authoritarian. NCP leader and MP Supriya Sule describes him as “a gentleman politician”, who “focused on the concerns of the common man and handled the Covid pandemic commendably”. Chief Congress Minister Balasaheb Thorat said: “Uddhav has always treated his allies and cabinet colleagues with great respect.”

During the current crisis, Uddhav has wavered between remaining resolute against the rebels and issuing desperate appeals to them – even as other party leaders poured vitriol on Shinde’s men. He also claimed to be the representative of the true Hindutva and the true heir to Balasaheb’s legacy.

At his last Cabinet meeting, Uddhav said, “It is unfortunate that I have been betrayed by my own people.” In his resignation message, as CM and MLC, he thanked the governor, acknowledged the support of the allies, called on Sainiks for peace and made it clear that he was not about to be put down. on the defensive against the new Sena under him.

“I have no regrets to have left the chair of the CM… What I did, I did it for the Marathi people and the Hindutva… The people of the State showed me their love. There were riots across the country and Maharashtra was an exception. I would also like to thank my Muslim brothers for listening,” he said.

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