In the year since the death of Bal Thackeray, his son Uddhav, now the sole leader of the Shiv Sena, has seen the departure of four sitting MPs of the party’s 11, besides that of former five-term MP Mohan Rawle who has joined the NCP. And though he remains with the party, former chief minister Manohar Joshi has been sidelined.
The exits may have encouraged the Congress-NCP but Uddav dismisses it. “Our asset is our mass base, which will prove our strength in the elections. Those leaving and joining other parties are entering a sinking ship,” he says.
To draft the party in his image and consolidate his hold, Uddhav has a coterie of confidants that has upset the old guard. The new bunch includes leaders such as Anil Desai and Sanjay Raut, backroom strategist without a constituency or support base of their own. It includes Milind Narvekar, personal assistant to Uddhav, and disliked by veteran Sainiks because of his access to and apparent influence on the Thackeray family.
The only veteran who has moved seamlessly from Bal Thackeray’s inner circles to Uddhav’s coterie is Subhash Desai, an MLA.
Many blame the recent exits to a perceived loss of mass support owing to a softening of the party’s miltant agenda. Uddhav comes across as nowhere near as tough a hardliner as Thackeray, something that has disheartened the old guard. Another reason is competition from the MNS, which follows the same ideology as the Sena. Among Maharashtra’s 48 seats, the Sena’s 11 in 2009 represented the second highest count, after that of the Congress. The militant party, which espouses the cause of Hindutva, had 17 per cent of the votes, a substantial growth since 1989 when it won four seats with 9.45 per cent. But in 2004, it had got 68.88 lakh votes, or 20.11 per cent; the drop to 17 per cent (62.80 lakh) came amid the emergence of the MNS.
“At this time there is no scope of upward mobility in the Shiv Sena for a lot of leaders. It is unlike the time of Bal Thackeray when leaders were allowed to grow in their own limited way,” said Dr Surendra Jondhale, head of Mumbai University’s civics and politics department. “The growing resentment against the Congress-NCP is like a lifeline for Thackeray. He needs to firm up his political agenda. He is at present surrounded by power brokers. If he fails in these elections, there is a genuine possibility that the party may disintegrate,” Akolkar said.