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.
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 continued…