Ever since Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackerays nephew Raj broke away from the party in 2006 to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS),Raj and his bete noire Uddhav,who is the executive president of the Sena,have been sworn political enemies. The mutual hatred has intensified after the MNS acted as the spoiler for the Sena-BJP alliance,thereby enabling the Congress to better its prospects in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections held last year. The MNS failed to win any Lok Sabha seat,but made an impressive debut in the Assembly by winning 13 seats.
And then came a surprise: the MNS decided to support the Sena in the Ambernath Municipal Council in Thane district,facilitating the victory of Sena nominee Sunil Chaudhari as the president of the council. Subsequently,when Uddhav,who is also a photographer,released a book of aerial pictures of forts in Maharashtra clicked by him,Raj praised his cousins photographic skills.
The MNS-Sena solidarity in Ambernath and Rajs remarks led to speculation about the possibility of the warring cousins uniting for the next civic polls in Mumbai due in 2012.
A group of former Shiv Sainiks led by Satish Valanju,a businessman from Worli,organised a formal meeting on May 15 to make an emotional appeal to the estranged cousins to unite for the Marathi Manoos. The group put up banners and hoardings in Mumbai as a part of its campaign and is planning to organise a public meeting of like-minded people at Shivaji Park.
The group made a second attempt on June 20 a day after the Sena celebrated its 44th foundation day by organising yet another meeting. The movement is yet to gain momentum and also yet to be patronised by a prominent leader from either the Shiv Sena or the MNS.
We are reflecting the sentiments of the Marathi Manoos, Valanju said. The fight between Raj and Uddhav indirectly benefits the Congress and the sufferer is the Marathi Manoos. People feel that the brothers should unite for the Marathi cause, he added.
Sources,however,say that it is unlikely that the brothers would unite,at least until the civic polls in Mumbai. The Sena is preparing to fortify itself for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections and Thackeray Senior has moved centrestage in the party after the debacle in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections last year.
There has been no move from our side to approach Raj on the issue, a senior Sena leader said. We dont think the two parties will unite. If at all there is an understanding for the BMC,it will be after the elections,not before that and it will all depend on the political situation emerging after the polls.
The Senas group leader in the Assembly Subhash Desai said,The group led by Valanju is acting on its own,it does not have our partys support. And Balasaheb Thackeray has said in the past that if someone has left the Shiv Sena and wants to come back,he should take the initiative.
The MNS members dismissed the unity efforts as wishful thinking of some sentimental people. Why would we do that? an MNS leader said. We are emerging as a powerful political party in Maharashtra. We would like to continue on our own and grow in the state.
Sources indicate that the chances of either Uddhav inviting Raj back into the Sena fold,or Raj taking the initiative to return are very slim.
Raj,who has shattered the Shiv Senas monopoly on issues like jobs for locals and protection of Marathi language and culture,would want to manifest his strength in the BMC on his own. Like Sharad Pawar,who broke away from the Congress to form the NCP,Raj,too,would like to preserve his own identity. And just like it is believed that Pawar may return to the Congress if made the prime minister,Raj may return only if he is at the helm of affairs. Political observers feel that possibility is almost impossible,as Uddhav would not work under Raj and vice-versa.
Besides,the coterie around Raj and Uddhav would not welcome the idea,as they would lose clout. Thackeray Senior could work out a formula,but since he has been supporting his son Uddhav all along,he may not like Raj to become dominant.
The possibility,according to sources,is that in the event of a fractured mandate in the BMC,the Shiv Sena may back the MNS or vice-versa (as they did in Ambernath),to prevent the Congress from wresting power.
However,it may not mean a merger of the parties.
Meanwhile,the unity efforts have triggered interest from unexpected quarters. Former Shiv Sena leader and now the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra,Chhagan Bhujbal,who had defected to the Congress in 1991 on the pretext of the Shiv Sena opposing the Mandal Commission recommendations in the state,has said that Raj and Uddhav Thackeray should unite.
With inputs from Dhaval Kulkarni