ONE of the highlights of the Shiv Sena’s 47-year-old history is the annual Dasara rally when party workers congregate at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park. They looked forward to Bal Thackeray’s speech, a sort of state-of-the-Sena address that was a blend of his biting wit and crassness.
This year’s rally, the first after Bal Thackeray’s death, was addressed by his son Uddhav Thackeray, who many believed was not cut out for the rough and tumble of Sena-style politics. The cadre came as usual to see whether their new leader measured up. They were not disappointed.
At the October 13 rally, the Sena satrap Manohar Joshi, 75, was forced to leave the dais as the crowd booed him. Joshi did not leave immediately, possibly thinking that it would die down. Joshi had made two mistakes. One was to arrive after Uddhav had already come on the stage. But the graver error was that he had indirectly questioned Uddhav’s leadership by criticising his style of functioning.
The first time he criticised Uddhav was over the appointment of a candidate for the Mumbai South-Central Lok Sabha seat. Joshi had met Uddhav to stake his claim to the seat, which he had won in 1999 but had lost in 2004. Uddhav was looking for younger candidates, a fact that Joshi knew and criticised. Joshi then challenged Uddhav’s style of functioning, calling it soft. He implied in one speech that Uddhav was not pursuing aggressively the setting up of his father’s memorial at Shivaji Park. In fact, the civil manner in which the Sena and the Municipal Corporation were working out the modalities for this had silenced the Sena’s critics. But, clearly, Joshi was trying to rouse the cadre.
Uddhav did not react immediately and was biding his time. At the Dasara rally he thundered out a thinly veiled threat saying he was a leader because the people wanted him to be one and arm-twisting by anyone would not make him change his mind on party matters.
He followed it up with an editorial in the Sena newspaper 'Saamna'. He wrote, “No one would have become the C.M., Lok Sabha Speaker or even a corporator if there was no existence of the Shiv Sena. People who still dream of posts should know well that there will be changes in the party and they are necessary as well.”
Joshi had three terms from 1972 to 1989 in the Maharashtra Legislative Council. He was also Mayor of Mumbai in 1976. In 1990, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly. In 1995 he became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra’s first non-Congress government of the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition. His rise within the party continued when he won the Mumbai South-Central Lok Sabha seat in 1999. He was Lok Sabha Speaker from 2002 to 2004 when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power. In 2006, he entered the Rajya Sabha.
Joshi and Bal Thackeray had a close but rocky relationship. Joshi, a rare Brahmin presence in the party, was seen as something of an anomaly, and he was careful not to play the caste card. For more than 40 years, he remained a part of the inner circle. The Dasara rally has a reputation for churn in the Sena. In this instance, it was Uddhav’s political coming of age, albeit Sena-style. As for Joshi, the senior leader was pulled down several notches.