Profile of a politician

Uddhav Thackeray: Reluctant politician

Print edition : December 20, 2019

January 5, 2015: Uddhav Thackeray at a six-day exhibition of his photographs in Mumbai. Photo: Vivek Bendre

ONE of the first decisions taken by Uddhav Thackeray after becoming Chief Minister was a heartening one. He stayed the felling of trees in the Aarey complex in north Mumbai and thus fulfilled one of the electoral promises of his party, the Shiv Sena. Throughout its election campaign, the Sena had supported the people’s protest against the cutting down of trees for the construction of a metro rail shed at Aarey.

Uddhav Thackeray, the youngest of the three sons of the late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, can be described as a reluctant entrant into the political world. He began his political career in 2003 hesitantly when he was appointed as the Sena’s working president. The third Shiv Sainik to become a Chief Minister and the first Thackeray to assume the position, he likes it to be known that he is the first Mumbai-born Chief Minister of the State. He was born on July 27, 1960. He graduated from JJ School of Arts with a major in photography. He is married to Rashmi, and they have two sons. Aaditya Thackeray, the elder son, is president of the Yuva Sena. He was elected to the Assembly from the Worli constituency, becoming the first Thackeray to contest and win an election.

Uddhav Thackeray was content to let the raging world of politics pass him by. He started his working career by establishing a small advertising agency called Chaurang, but his passion for photography and nature eclipsed everything else.

He has published two books and held an exhibition of his works at the prestigious Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. His book Maharashtra Desh depicts the forts of the State, and Pahava Vitthal is on the Pandharpur pilgrimage. He donated the proceeds from the sale of his exhibited photographs, a sum of Rs.10 lakh, to help farmers.

The words gentle, affable and amiable have been frequently used to describe him. There have not been many displays of strong emotion by Uddhav Thackeray except perhaps on one issue and on one occasion: on building a Ram temple in Ayodhya on the same spot where the Babri Masjid stood and when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) refused to honour the pre-election agreement for rotating chief ministership with his party. “Are they calling me a liar?” he asked after the BJP said there was no such arrangement. It was a display of naivete (an odd word to describe a Thackeray). A man of more political experience would have worked out a plan just so as to continue the political relationship with the BJP. After all, the Sena and the BJP are ideologically aligned. The crucial test ahead for Uddhav Thackeray lies in managing the ideological differences between the Sena and its new partners in the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the post-election coalition formed by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Peasants and Workers Party and some independent MLAs.

If a man is judged by his advisers, then Uddhav Thackeray must choose carefully from those who are eagerly pressing around him. His “team” has Subhash Desai and Eknath Shinde. Desai is a senior member of the Sena and was part of Bal Thackeray’s inner circle of advisers, but he was once disqualified from contesting elections because he had stirred up communal feelings.

Possibly, the firmest guiding hand will be that of Sharad Pawar. Given that Uddhav Thackeray owes his post to Pawar, it is likely that the steel in his velvet glove may not need to make an appearance.

Rebuilding bridges

There are signs that Uddhav Thackeray is interested in rebuilding bridges. Raj Thackeray, his estranged cousin who broke away from the Sena and formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, accepted the invitation to Uddhav Thackeray’s swearing-in ceremony held at Shivaji Park.

Chhagan Bhujbal, who had defected from the Sena to the NCP and faced the wrath of Bal Thackeray, was sworn in as a Minister. Perhaps there is hope of a conciliatory tone in the new government.

The previous Devendra Fadnavis government neglected and politicised grass-roots issues such as loans to farmers, small irrigation projects, the fate of the Nanar refinery, the bullet-train project, land rights versus infrastructure projects and the coastal road around Mumbai.

At the moment, Uddhav Thackeray is full of goodwill, and believes that he is here to serve. The question is how long he will be able to cope with the realities of politics and the cynicism of power.

 

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