Other States

Uddhav Thackeray’s convalescence points to the Shiv Sena’s weak second rung

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Although Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was discharged from hospital last week, after three weeks of medical care following a cervical spine surgery, it may be a while before he returns to his full-time duties.

The Chief Minister’s absence has created a backlog of issues awaiting his attention, apart from the shifting of the State Legislature’s winter session to Mumbai instead of the traditional Nagpur.

The convalescent Mr. Thackeray faces a host of challenges to the smooth functioning of the tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi government he leads. They range from the long drawn-out transport strike by employees of the cash-strapped Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) to the appointment of a successor to the State Director General of Police (DGP) who is due for retirement in the near future.

The MSRTC strike, which began in late October and intensified throughout November, has paralysed the transport infrastructure in the State’s rural hinterland.

“Staff are determined to have their demand for the merger of the MSRTC with the State government met, and there is a general loss of faith among MSRTC employees with the ruling government and politicians, so it appears that the issue can only be resolved with Mr. Thackeray’s mediation and personal assurances to the workers,” said a Mumbai-based analyst.

Mr. Thackeray’s health troubles could also affect the fortunes of his party in the upcoming civic polls to ten important municipal corporations scheduled for February 2022, say analysts. He may not be able to campaign as effectively for the municipal polls, which are a little over two months away.

The ten civic bodies include the cash-rich Mumbai, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporations, along with the politically vital Nashik, Nagpur and Solapur corporations.

Mr. Thackeray is undoubtedly the most popular and effective face of his party at the moment. He has succeeded in silencing predictions of the end of the Sena after the death of its founder, the charismatic Balasaheb Thackeray, in 2012.

No one predicted that the nature and photography-loving Uddhav Thackeray would succeed Bal Thackeray and become Chief Minister one day. But while Mr Thackeray’s seemingly unspectacular yet calm style of leadership projecting earnestness and sincerity has generally met with the public’s approbation, the Sena faces a major problem with its second-rung leadership which is not particularly promising in terms of regional or national appeal.

“This crisis with a strong second-line leadership has been festering for a while now. Despite strenuous efforts at projecting [Environment Minister and son] Aaditya Thackeray as the Sena’s next chief, he [Aaditya] has a long way to go before he can successfully garner the kind of mass appeal his father has secured,” said a city-based election watcher.

Aaditya’s maternal cousin, Varun Sardesai, the general secretary of the party’s youth wing, the Yuva Sena, is projected as the party’s “young Turk”, exuding the Sena’s traditional spirit of aggression, but is also considered too inexperienced to make much impact.

Age is catching up with veteran Sena leader Subhash Desai, the State’s Industries Minister, who turns 80 next year, while party warhorse Eknath Shinde’s influence is limited to his turf of Thane.

Similarly, Sena MP Anil Desai has long been considered a “backroom boy” while Vinayak Raut wields influence only in the Konkan region.

That leaves the Sena’s other prominent face — the party’s chief spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut. While Mr. Raut had been making hectic efforts over the last several months to expand the party’s base in Pune, particularly in Pimpri-Chinchwad and in Nashik, his appeal as a mass leader is severely limited.

The party’s grip in areas outside Mumbai and the Konkan is tenuous at best, with the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) continuing to remain the Shiv Sena’s lifeline

“The Sena, despite having the Chief Minister’s post, needs to do some inventive thinking if it wants to expand across Maharashtra. Right now, it seems only Uddhav Thackeray has the kind of pan-Maharashtra appeal needed for the party’s growth,” said senior political analyst Vivek Bhavsar.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 8:51:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/uddhav-thackerays-convalescence-points-to-the-shiv-senas-weak-second-rung/article37853859.ece

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