It was a political launch that any budding politician would crave. The Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray presenting his grandson, Aditya, to thousands of Shiv Sena activists at Shivaji Park in October 2010.
Bowing down on the stage with a sword held high, this bespectacled and soft-spoken leader, however, had reason to be worried. He was to appear for his semester exam at St. Xavier’s College the next day.
Today, the young Thackeray is the budding Sena leader making forays into rural Maharashtra and spearheading his party’s social media campaign for Lok Sabha elections 2014.
“For me, the concern (at the time) was whether Aditya would do well or not,” said Prof. Avkash Jadhav, who taught him history. Aditya secured a first-class in the exam and is currently studying for a law degree.
“He is from the Thackeray family, so we always knew that he would enter politics,” said Samadhan Sarvankar, his colleague in the Yuva Sena.
Just before his formal launch into politics, Aditya, now 24, the older son of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, took the lead in getting acclaimed writer Rohinton Mistry’s book Such a Long Journey "withdrawn" by Mumbai University in 2010.
"It is inconceivable that in the 21st century, a political party will not show the maturity to accept criticism… Is it not unreasonable, that literature is banned, merely because it dares to critique us? St. Xavier's College regrets that this book, written by an alumnus, and widely acclaimed in the literary world, has been treated in this manner," Aditya’s college principal, Frazer Mascarenhas S J, said at the time.
The young Thackeray’s more recent campaign to keep eateries in Mumbai open for 24 hours gave him publicity, but yielded no decision from the government.
His roadshows and visits to rural Maharashtra have become a point of interest. “They (youngsters) see him as their real representative. He is of their age and speaks their language. He can associate with their issues,” Sena MP Anil Desai said.
Depending on a Mumbai-centric core group is said to be his disadvantage. “He listens to people, but when it comes to decision-making, he relies heavily on a select few around him,” a journalist, who has been covering Aditya’s political journey from the beginning, said.
Known to be active on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Sena activists give him the credit for placing the party on the digital map.
While proclaiming the development plank, Aditya has made it clear that he would never give up the Hindutva ideology, practiced by his late grandfather and father, Udhav Thackeray.
Critics also question the absence of women members from Yuva Sena’s core group. “His age gives him an edge above all other young leaders from the state, but the seniors within his party often do not take him seriously,” the journalist, who preferred anonymity, said.
Two close aides, Abhijit Panse and Rahul Narvekar, have left the Sena to join Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) respectively.
In his speech introducing Aditya in 2010, the late Bal Thackeray talked about younger brother Tejas extensively, an indication that the Thackerays have two young leaders in the making to spearhead the party’s activities in future.