Thackerays signal willingness to lead their parties in assembly. This is an interesting shift.
Ahead of the assembly election in October, and in the wake of a dramatic Lok Sabha verdict, significant moves are afoot in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena and the MNS could both be moving towards a new, upfront style of leadership. Raj Thackeray has announced his decision to contest from Dadar, and cousin Uddhav Thackeray is also said to be aiming for the chief minister’s post.
While the chief ministership question is settled by the number of seats each party brings to the winning coalition, this talk is an interesting change of tack for the Thackeray family, which has so far specialised in managing politics from a distance. “I am the remote control”, Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had said after publicly rebuking the then CM, Manohar Joshi, who had been installed by him in the Shiv Sena-BJP government in the late 1990s.
This is a healthier, more honest approach to leadership, where the Sena leader will also be accountable in the legislative assembly. The Shiv Sena, since its inception in 1966, has denied the idea of democratic citizenship for an aggressively authoritarian Marathi mobilisation, casting minorities and migrants as “the others”. Its strong organisational infrastructure and its sense for political theatre, including public violence as a performative strategy, carries on, also replicated in its offshoot, the MNS.
With Bal Thackeray’s passing, the rivalry between the Senas continues, but the next generation of Thackerays is clearly more open to wielding power directly, steering the party as well as leading legislators and running the government. Given that Bal Thackeray’s large presence is missing now, this will also forestall the emergence of any other power-centres within the parties.
The Shiv Sena’s bid for chief ministership may cause some tension with ally BJP. It will not be as easy to apportion credit for victory, if they do win, given that the Sena is poised to do better, but equally, Narendra Modi’s sheen is expected to rub off on both parties. Ideally, this move towards direct accountability could temper the Senas’ politics, if they have to speak to the entire spectrum of opinion in the assembly, rather than merely the sectional interests that voted them in, and if they have stakes in leading a responsible government.