In 1998 when Aaditya Thackeray was an eight-year-old, his grandfather Bal Thackeray, in an interview to the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, slammed environmentalists as “mafiosis” obstructing the growth of Maharashtra.
More than two decades later, as he lays the ground for his own electoral debut, Aaditya Thackeray, the Shiv Sena heir apparent, has seized on environmental issues, to stake out an identity for himself as a “woke” champion of socially progressive values.
While Aaditya’s opposition and concern about the felling of 2,700 trees in Aarey to make way for a car shed carries a certain resonance, the junior Thackeray is also an able practitioner of his grandfather’s style of parochial right-wing politics.
“I love politics since childhood as I used to tour with my grandfather and father. Whenever my friends and others questioned me asking what else I can do apart from politics, I told them I can’t do anything else but only politics. We have always seen politics for doing social work and served the people. To do something new, politics is the only medium that can change the lives of crores of people,” said Aaditya while addressing a gathering of party activists in Worli on Monday evening.
Aaditya announced his entry into the state’s political scene in 2010, when as a 20-year-old, he forced Mumbai University to remove Rohinton Mistry’s acclaimed novel “Such a Long Journey” from the syllabus of the university’s Bachelor of Art course.
Thackeray admitted that he had not read the book, but was angered by the “offensive passages” written by Mistry about the Shiv Sena. He burnt the book at the gates of Mumbai University which promptly led to the country’s oldest university withdrawing the book overnight.
Nearly a month later on October 17, his grandfather handed him a ceremonial sword, anointing him as the head of the party’s newly created Yuva Sena at the Sena’s annual Dussehra Rally.
Aaditya’s first major political foray was when he was made the star campaigner of the party in the 2012 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation polls. Thackeray initially took up civic issues alien to Sena concerns. His early work was limited to improving the night life of Mumbai and projects to help improve the city residents’ fitness quotient.
Aaditya’s rise in stock within the Shiv Sena was swift and visible. One of the seniormost Sena MP’s Chandrkant Khaire was clicked in public touching Aaditya’s feet. Aaditya was subsequently included by his father in talks with the BJP for seat sharing. This move was mocked by BJP leaders, who had qualms about sharing space with a person who was not eligible even to contest elections.
Even as the Shiv Sena decided to join the BJP government, the junior Thackeray was known to use his remote control to get his pet projects and ideas implemented by the administration. The plastic ban in the state in 2018 was his brainchild. Aaditya is also said to have been instrumental in altering the Sena’s stand on celebration of Valentine’s Day, where earlier it hounded people celebrating it.
While Aaditya is revered by Sena leaders, few leaders had complained that he is a pale imitation of his grandfather. Thackeray’s social circle, which is made up of largely non-Marathi speakers, has also led to murmurs within the Sena cadre. In spite of these, Thackeray is seen as the person who will lead the party in the coming decades. Whether he would be able to transform the nature of the party is yet to be seen.