By Kalyani Shankar
How would the late Sena Pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray have reacted to the idea of his grandson Aaditya entering electoral politics, when the Thackeray clan had so far scrupulously kept out of it? He would have chuckled. So far, the family has run a powerful political party in Maharashtra without contesting elections themselves. The youngest Thackeray Aaditya breaks that trend in upcoming Maharashtra assembly election by contesting from Worli seat in Mumbai.
Balasaheb had once told me he had taken three decisions — he would not contest elections, he would not write his autobiography, and would not take any government post — and he had stuck to it till the end. After the first Sena-BJP government was formed (1995-1999), Balasaheb often quipped that he ruled the state with a ‘remote control’ in his hand.
Balasaheb’s son Uddhav Thackeray surprisingly not only kept the party alive but also followed the remote control policy of his father, but the 29-year-old Aaditya is different. He represents the aspirational Maharashtrian youth. His image-makers are trying to project him as a suave, English speaking Sena leader. Nine years ago, Balasaheb himself introduced his grandson in October 2010 and also named Aaditya as the head of the party’s newly created youth wing.
The timing is perfect for the Thackeray scion with the BJP-Sena alliance poised to win the Assembly polls this month. Though it was not a surprise, Aaditya has recently said in an interview: “I chose this election because I thought this was the right time.”There is a vacuum of youth leadership in Maharashtra, which he hopes to fill up.
Aaditya himself has admitted that he used to travel with his father and grandfather as a child and became interested in politics. “If you have to do something good for the society, politics is the way. I have been thinking of my journey for the last five years. We did several agitations. How to save Maharashtra better Shiv Sena style? I have always thought that I should join my party legislators,” justifies Aaditya. Prior to this electoral contest, he had undertaken ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ in July to thank the voters for the 2019 success, but his real intention was to gauge the public mood for his own electoral debut.
The young Thackeray represents the changing political scenario and also the evolving culture of the Sena. Much has changed since the days of Balasaheb. The party’s clout in Maharashtra politics has certainly diminished. Politics has changed, the voters have changed and the Sena too has become a junior partner in the coalition as compared to the earlier days of dominating the BJP-Sena alliance.
Aaditya is experimenting a different kind of politics, trying to change the old narrative. The Sena’s image has been a muscular politics and he would have to change if he wants to succeed. Sena is no more a rabble-rousing party. In the past it used to launch agitations against the South Indians, Gujaratis, Biharis and Muslims. Today, in a bid to woo non-Maharashtrian voters, his campaign has multi-lingual posters. He does not mention religion or Hindutva and instead prefers to raise bread and butter issues like employment and development. He talks about the ban on plastic, beach cleaning and environment. Aaditya is more cosmopolitan, more modern and open to the new age electoral politics. He is accused of being comfortable with the Page 3 set, but he is also trying to appeal to the ordinary youth.
Secondly, Aaditya is emulating his grandfather by building a base among the youth. Balasaheb had a devout youth following all his life. As long he was alive, every Vijayadasami day, thousands of youth had attended his meeting at the Shivaji Park. Aaditya is targeting particularly the millennial voters. He is being projected as a sensitive modern young leader, who is flexible and open to new ideas.
Thirdly, it was the family’s considered decision to support Aditya’s electoral plunge. Bal Thackeray could run the government through remote control. Uddhav too managed to do that but Aaditya encouraged by his mother Reshmi believes that the remote control days are over and one needs to be in the system.
Above all, the Sena wants to strengthen itself on the ground fearing that the BJP might subsume the party. The family feels that the junior Thackeray’s presence in the next cabinet would give them some control.
Aaditya is poised to win his debut in electoral politics and if Dame Luck smiles at him, he might even become the Deputy Chief Minister. Though Uddhav says now: “The first step in politics doesn’t mean that you have to become the Chief Minister of the state. He has just entered politics, this is just the beginning,” he would push for his son when the time comes. Aaditya wants to prove that he is not just another son of a powerful political family, but a grassroot leader in his own right. The upcoming contest will be an acid test for Aaditya.