The rebel Shiv Sena legislators led by Eknath Shinde have cited various issues that have constrained them to take the present stand. The main grouse is that party chief, Uddhav Thackeray, was not accessible to the defectors, in his capacity as the chief minister.
When Chhagan Bhujbal walked out of the party in 1991, along with 18 legislators, the defection was crushed by the Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. Bal Thackeray could quell the rebellion and get 12 of the legislators back in the party fold by the end of the day. This was possible because of the clout and respect that the senior Thackeray wielded. Apart from love and respect, there was a sense of awe and fear that permeated all party layers. That is not the case with his son and present-day party chief Uddhav Thackeray.
Uddhav has always stood out as a gentleman -- a misfit in the political situation that has persisted for the last few decades. Though not as popular as his father, Uddhav has earned the love and support of a large majority of party members, supporters and well-wishers, but that does not make him a successful politician.
There is no doubt that the onslaught of COVID-19 and the lockdown made it difficult for people to connect with each other. While this is true of ordinary people, it cannot be an excuse for those in power. Connect with people at all levels is the foundation of electoral politics. Those in power must be with the people during times of crisis. It is not enough to do good work; in these days of social media domination, people should believe that work has been done for their welfare.
His health issues also kept him indoors, leading to a disconnect with party officials and elected representatives, the most important sections in a party. Human connect comes in handy during times of crisis and his connect with the public at large was only through video talks.
Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar were known to be each other’s detractors in public life but had excellent personal relations. Both these leaders have track record of being in touch with their supporters and detractors. On this count, too, Uddhav Thackeray failed.
A look at political parties in the country and abroad shows that while leaders speak of democracy, they do not delegate too much power to others in the party. It was Uddhav Thackeray’s biggest mistake to give too much power to Shinde, who is a hardcore politician and who leveraged this to win over the legislators, who are now with him in Guwahati.
Uddhav failed to show consistency in handling the current crisis, thereby emitting a message that he is a weak leader. He has two major options now. If he has the confidence to rebuild the party without the defectors, he could take a firm stand against them, to the extent of expelling them from the party. But that is not an easy task, unless he moves across the state to win over the detractors’ followers.
The other option is to use diplomacy to resolve the on-going conflict in the party, this again is not an easy path to tread. In one of his recent speeches, he said that he is willing to step down from both his posts and hand over the reigns to anybody else. If he hands over the reigns to Shinde, he will lose the current hold he has over the party and it may not be reversible.