Feuding cousins

Published : Sep 09, 2005 00:00 IST

The truce between Uddhav and Raj Thackeray means only a postponement of the battle to take control of the Shiv Sena.


THERE is a soap opera-like quality to the internal battles of the Shiv Sena. The father-figure in the form of Bal Thackeray, aging but still in charge. The warring cousins Uddhav and Raj - one who asserts his right by birth and the other who asserts his right by might. Then there are the supporters who mill around, perpetually seeking to ingratiate themselves with the head of the family. And finally, there is the future of the family. Who will lead it once the patriarch has passed on? The Shiv Sena script is precisely at this stage. It has been so ever since Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav was anointed working president of the party three years ago. At the time Thackeray's nephew Raj and his supporters felt slighted, believing (possibly, rightly so) that Raj had his finger on the pulse of the party unlike Uddhav.

A low level warfare between the cousins has been going on since then. The latest episode in this saga erupted when the party paper Saamna called Raj a coward for partially completing his Konkan tour and staying away from former Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane's bastion of Kankavali.

Raj said he cancelled the tour because Uddhav's Chalo Sindhudurg campaign had escalated tensions in the area and that he wanted to avoid public clashes between Shiv Sainiks. Besides, he said, he was advised by the police to turn back.

Sanjay Raut, executive editor of Saamna and a close friend of Uddhav, ridiculed Raj's defence and claimed that Shiv Sainiks would not mind their leader being arrested - instead, it would only be taken as proof of his mettle.

In fact, the Chalo Sindhudurg campaign itself angered Raj because it was meant ostensibly to lend support to Raj's tour but in effect sabotaged it. Raj retaliated by calling for weeding out incompetent leaders.

The fact that Raut was not hauled up for the scathing editorial was seen by many as Uddhav snubbing Raj. Raut's position is stable for the moment except for the fact that Rane persists in keeping the issue alive by saying Raut was to blame for creating the rift between the cousins. Rane also continues to express his contemptuous opinion of Uddhav by saying that he is unfit not just to lead the Shiv Sena but even to be a shakha pramukh (local leader). His opinions have finally led Thackeray to issue veiled threats through the Saamna. He has called Rane a "one-and-a-half-foot Minister who is trying to spread germs... and if he is not careful the germs may turn and infect him."

The truce that was called was apparently brokered by Bal Thackeray himself. If there were any winners in this on-going battle, it was Raj. From being excluded from major decision-making, Raj will now be consulted in all party meetings, especially those involving distribution of the ticket and party posts. The final "yes" or "no" in such matters continues to rest with the Shiv Sena chief himself but, as far as Raj is concerned he has finally been equated with Uddhav.

When the tug-of-war between the two cousins became public, two Shiv Sena bigwigs allied themselves with the cousins. Manohar Joshi hitched his wagon to Uddhav and Narayan Rane fixed his sights on Raj. There was something appropriate about the pairing. Manohar Joshi and Uddhav have always projected a more urbane face of the Sena while Raj and Rane represented the militant face of the party. The seesaw of power between Rane and Joshi continued until Rane's exit from the party in July. The moment was probably one of greatest triumph for Joshi since it leaves him as the most powerful leader in the powerful inner circle of old Shiv Sena members that has Bal Thackeray's ear. Rane's departure ensured Joshi this position and his role in the negotiations between the cousins further stabilised his position.

Bal Thackeray claimed that all was well, but Rane's departure was a blow to Thackeray and to the Shiv Sena. And, though not many Sainiks bemoaned the departure of Member of Parliament Sanjay Nirupam, the very fact that he strode out of the party was indication that all was not well. Any further internecine strife would only throw the supporters into confusion, not to mention the advantage the Bharatiya Janata Party would derive from the situation. The Shiv Sena and the BJP are partners in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). If the BJP chooses not to go with the Sena in the 2006 municipal elections it would affect the Sena's two-decade-old grip on the corporation. Apparently, Raj has been encouraging the BJP to reconsider its partnership. This sounds spiteful but would weaken the Sena's resources by cutting at its base in Mumbai and showing up Uddhav as an ineffectual leader. And that is what Raj would like, most of all.

Thackeray's autocratic style has prevented him from allowing a natural leader to grow within the party. While this has been the Sena's strength so far, it could lead to the party's downfall. The so-called truce means just a postponement of the real battle that will break out between the supporters of Raj and Uddhav when one or the other has to take control of the party.

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