Huddled inside the Shiv Sena Bhawan at Dadar are party leaders engaged in the last-minute preparations to mark the first death anniversary of their party supremo Bal Thackeray. The message from the top is clear: It has to be turned into a mega show of strength for the Sena ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
On January 23 this year,Uddhav Thackeray graduated from being the working president to becoming the president of the party,thus being vested with the absolute authority in party matters that was effectively exercised by his father late Bal Thackeray for four decades.
However,it seems easier said than done. Though Uddhav maintains he will be at the helm as long as Sainiks want him,there are concerns about his health he underwent treatment for cardiac problems days after his fathers death as well as about his sober personality being able to lead party workers having a militant image.
Also,an assessment of his year-long leadership in the absence of Thackeray Senior shows the rise of new challenges for him.
The first challenge came from former CM and family loyalist Manohar Joshi,who apparently taunted Uddhav for failing to prevail upon the state government to allow space in Shivaji Park for a memorial of the senior Thackeray. Though Uddhav was clearly unhappy,nothing had prepared Joshi for the kind of humiliation meted out to him at the Senas annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park this year. The senior Sena leader was booed out of the rally by angry Sainiks.
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Another setback for Uddhav came when the state government dismissed his proposal to convert Mahalaxmi Race Course into a world-class museum.
Yet another instance was the partys flip-flop on extending support to Narendra Modi as the BJPs prime ministerial candidate.
However,people close to Uddhav dismiss talks of any flip-flops. The Sena has never made personal attack on Modi. As an alliance partner,we have only expressed our opinion on policy matters, says Sanjay Raut,Rajay Sabha MP and the executive editor of the partys mouthpiece Saamana.
Moreover,even harshest critics of Uddhav acknowledge he has held the house together despite upheavals.
Former Sena leader and NCP minister Chhagan Bhujbal says,A cadre-based party like Sena is not going to disappear overnight,but Uddhav certainly has a big challenge ahead.
Supporters also point out to the fact that not a single shakha,a Sena unit,across Maharashtra has become defunct post-Bal Thackeray. They also say not a single leader of stature has defected from the Sena to MNS,Congress or NCP.
Uddhav has been in command of the organisation for last 10 years. He has proved his leadership ability, Raut says.
In terms of organisational functioning,nothing has changed in the last one year as we are committed and guided by the path shown by Balasaheb, he says.
Raut cautions that the sober style of Uddhav should not be misunderstood as his weakness. To the contrary,Uddhavji always displays greater firmness in decision making. At times,it may seem like he is delaying it. But that is to ensure adequate consultation.
What is being missed about Thackeray is his frequent intervention,which came from his personal experience and dialogue with a cross-section of people, Raut sums up.
Bharat Kumar Raut,also a Rajya Sabha MP from the Sena,agrees to the Saamana editor. Uddhavji has consolidated his leadership in the last one year. All the critics who had written off the Sena post-Balasaheb have been proved completely wrong.
In Maharashtra,there were no major elections in the last one year that could test a political party or its leadership. This is said to have provided Uddhav a much-needed breather to build his own team. And he has given enough hints of infusing some fresh blood also. Handpicking a younger leader like Rahul Shewale as a replacement for Joshi to contest the Lok Sabha polls from the prestigious Mumbai South Central seat is a case in point. Also a pointer is the rise of his son Aditya,who has been pro-active on many issues.
Uddhavs another key initiative is to reach out to Dalits by bringing Shiv Sena and RPI together. The first attempt towards this was made in 2004,which became a reality ahead of the 2014 polls. Its no mean feat for a party that was always labelled anti-Dalit.
Today,Sena-BJP-RPI is a formidable challenge to the ruling Congress and NCP, says RPI activist and dalit writer Arjun Dangle.
Still,challenges for Uddhav remain. He is now on his own in dealing with factions within the Sena or streamlining alliances with BJP and RPI. Also,ties between him and his estranged cousin and MNS chief Raj Thackeray show no signs of improvement. This means the Sena will have to face MNS in its own stronghold in the coming elections.
Of the total 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra,Mumbai,Thane,Pune,Konkan together account for 100 seats. In 2009,Sena managed to win only 45 of the 171 seats it fought. In the Lok Sabha polls,it won 11 of the total 22 seats it contested. Sena ally BJP contested 26 seats and won nine. MNS has already made inroads in Senas stronghold.
The electoral decline of Sena began even when Bal Thackeray was alive. In 1995,Sena won the highest number of seats (73) in the Assembly polls. Together with BJPs 65 and 45 independents,it formed the government. Even then,Congress had bagged 80 seats.
In the Lok Sabha,the highest Sena tally was 16 of the 48 seats. Together with the BJP,the figure was 33 seats. But both Sena and BJP have been facing a steady decline since 1999.
Uddhav reckons they will have to rely on BJP to consolidate his own leadership and organisation despite discontent on some issues. Also,the popularity of Modi has also tamed Sena,which feels it cannot stretch its differences to a breaking point since the BJP could always look for options like MNS. It is no secret that BJPs prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi never had cordial relations with the Sena even when Bal Thackeray was alive.
Sena will retain the big brothers role in Maharashtra and accept BJPs leadership in the NDA at the Centre, says Sanjay Raut.
Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde also dispels any apprehensions. There is a complete understanding between the Sena-BJP and RPI.
State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis also exudes optimism. Our alliances single mission is to usher change in the larger interest of the people. When our objectives are common,why should we have problems. The alliance is here to stay. We will have joint election campaigns.
Sena leaders expect 3-5 lakh supporters
MUMBAI: On the eve of the first death anniversary of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray,party members Saturday said they expected a turnout of three to five lakh supporters at Shivaji Park,where they will pay homage to their late leader at a garden memorial Sunday.
Over 20 lakh supporters from across the state had gathered at the same ground during the last rites of Thackeray last year.
Sena MLA from Jogeshwari Ravindra Waikar said visitors would be allowed to offer flowers at the landscaped memorial for the first time on Sunday.
Nothing grand has been planned. Supporters will come in a steady flow and offer floral tributes at the memorial. The programme will go on between 7 am and 7 pm. There will be a separate entrance and queue for VIPs. Parking or halting of vehicles will not be allowed on roads around Shivaji Park, said Waikar. Ambulances will also be available.
Sena president Uddhav Thackeray,who is personally monitoring the preparations,has instructed his party units to ensure a large turnout of Sainiks on Sunday. Top leaders of allies BJP and Republican Party of India (A),besides others from around the country,are expected to join the gathering. NCP president Sharad Pawar,Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,senior BJP leaders Gopinath Munde and Devendra Fadnavis,and MNS chief Raj Thackeray are expected to come. Senior BJP leader L K Advani is also expected to attend the programme.
Home minister R R Patil Saturday held a meeting with top police officers to review the security arrangements.
We will have 600 constables,both men and women,and 40 officers stationed at Shivaji Park and on Veer Savarkar Road. Though we cannot estimate how many people will come to pay their respects from 7 am onwards,we are prepared for all eventualities, said Ramesh Dhanvat,Assistant Commissioner of Police,Dadar Division.
It was only three days before Thackerays first death anniversary that the state government gave its approval for the construction work of a memorial at Shivaji Park.
At a meeting convened at Mantralaya on Thursday,the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) allowed installation of bollards around the memorial site.
The original plan,which was cleared by the MCZMA in August this year,involved no construction. The MCZMA s nod was necessary for the memorial work as its site at Shivaji Park falls in the Coastal Regulation Zone.