Estranged cousins led a bitter, personal campaign as each tried to claim Sena supremo’s legacy

After the clash of the Senas in Maharashtra, only one Tiger remains in the ring.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has emerged triumphant, leading the party to its highest-ever Lok Sabha tally in the State. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, headed by his cousin and political rival Raj Thackeray, was decimated, with all 10 party candidates losing their deposits.

“Those who tried to obstruct us, the public have shown them their place,” Uddhav said as poll results came in on Friday. Closeted in his house, Raj issued a one-liner: “Modi won. Everyone else lost.”

This was a high stakes poll for Uddhav, the first election he presided over after the death of his father, Bal Thackeray. The cousins led a bitter, personal campaign as each tried to claim the Sena supremo’s legacy.

In the 2009 elections, the militant Raj — seen as Bal Thackeray’s natural heir — succeeded in dividing the saffron vote, leading to the defeat of Shiv Sena-BJP candidates in nine constituencies. But this election, the MNS vote plummeted from 15 lakh to just 7 lakh.The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, got 18 seats — seven more than 2009. The Raj factor had strained the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance when the BJP reached out to the MNS chief before the polls. It took a phone call from Narendra Modi to Uddhav to calm the waters.

MNS leaders admit Raj’s inactivity in the last five years has cost the party dear. His contradictory stands also backfired. In January, he criticised Mr. Modi but by March he backed him as the prime ministerial candidate. In 2009, he was accused of dividing the Marathi vote and this was his attempt to be seen as part of the saffron agenda.

Tough battle ahead

As both parties face Assembly polls in October, Raj will have a tough battle. Seen as a politician who makes deals with the Congress and the BJP, he needs to restore his party’s credibility. He will also have to rejuvenate a dormant and demoralised party.

For Uddhav, the challenge is one of holding his own against an assertive BJP, riding high on the Modi wave. This election, the BJP has won five seats more than the Shiv Sena, traditionally the Big Brother in the alliance. It is expected to demand more seats in the Assembly polls where the Shiv Sena has the lion’s share. Both parties will eye the Chief Minister’s post and the power struggle could intensify in the months ahead.