The first Dussehra rally after Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray turned out to be eventful, with some of the key issues related with the very survival of the Shiv Sena under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray coming to the fore.
Ever since Uddhav took over the reins of the party after Balasaheb’s departure, he has been constantly under pressure and to consolidate the party for the coming major challenges in 2014, with the general elections coming up in 2014, followed by assembly elections. He has to take some hard decisions to ensure that the vast network of Shivsainiks remains intact.
The first Shiv Sena rally at Shivaji Park in the absence of Balasaheb obviously attracted attention to Uddhav’s performance as a leader in his own right and was a big challenge for him. He always stands to be compared with his father, the charismatic Balasaheb and he is no match. His position within the party had come under attack just a few days before the traditional Sena rally held on Dussehra at Shivaji Park from none other than the seniormost Sena leader and the former speaker of the Lok Sabha, Manohar Joshi, who was upset with the indications that he would not get a party ticket for the coming Lok Sabha from Dadar constituency.
In Machiavellian style, he indirectly decried Uddhav for his lack of firebrand leadership and expressed dissatisfaction that the issue of a memorial for Balasaheb Thackeray had not been taken up in the Sena’s usual aggressive style by the party leadership. The Sena is built totally on the emotional bonding of the Sainiks with their undisputed leader Balasaheb Thackeray and they would follow his dictates without any question. No one dared question Balasaheb and his plans during his lifetime and those who found this difficult had to leave the party for one reason or the other.
This was a direct public affront to Uddhav’s leadership, which led to simmering discontent among the Sainiks . As the seniormost leader, Joshi could have conveyed his displeasure directly to the party leadership, so there was no need for public criticism, it was felt. Uddhav handled the situation tactfully, by not retaliating publicly, but instead, maintaining a studied silence when party workers booed out Joshi for speaking against him.
More than the challenge of holding a massive rally at Shivaji Park in the absence of Balasaheb, the coming elections will be the real litmus test for Uddhav and he has to address many sensitive, but urgent issues facing the party. The selection of candidates for these elections is one of the major political decisions to be made, accounting for the nature and composition of party. Like other political parties, the Sena is also in the throes of dealing with the ambitious younger generation, which wants to take over.
This is very essential, but a politically sensitive management task that Uddhav must perform without hurting the sentiments of senior leaders. Bringing in new faces with elective merit and experience and managing retiring seniors is a delicate balancing act. The issue came to the fore when there was talk within the party over who should be given a ticket for the prestigious Dadar seat, ignoring the claim of Manohar Joshi, who has been mayor, chief minister , senior union minister and later, Speaker of the Lok Sabha. He was the righthand man of the Sena supremo ever since the party’s inception and had made clear his intention of entering the fray, but he did not get the desired response, as Uddhav was thinking of bringing in a new face for the constituency.
By ignoring the seniormost leaders, Uddhav was sending out the signal that he would like to bring in newer and younger faces for the most crucial elections. But at the same time, there were other senior leaders who were likely to be spared based on their electability. He was running the risk of annoying the most powerful leader in the party, but he wanted to make it clear that he was not going to tolerate any dissidence within the party and deal with it firmly.
Without referring to Manohar Joshi, Uddhav told the gathering in no uncertain terms, “As long as I am the Shiv Sena chief, I will not brook anarchy in the Sena. If I have to bow down to any pressure, it will be that of Shiv Sainiks and not of anyone else,” Uddhav is no novice in political management and has proved his mettle while handling elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the real strength of the Sena when Balasaheb was very much around. For the last two BMC elections, he had handled the allotment of tickets, ignoring pressure from senior leaders. As a political strategist, he had reorganised the party by appointing shakha pramukhs (chiefs) who were loyal to him, to rule out any internal threats. Sidelining longtime Balasaheb loyalists is not an easy task, as it could also boomerang on the party. The operation had to be done very smoothly, without ruffling the feathers of seniors.
Apart from Manohar Joshi leaving the dais in haste after being heckled by party workers, they wanted to know what Uddhav had to say, since Balasaheb had always used the Sena rally to drop hints of his future plans. It was from one such rally that he had hinted at the Sena following a policy of militant Hindutva, which paved way for the party’s alliance with the BJP.
In his speech, he ignored the Manohar Joshi issue, but emphasised the need to maintain party discipline and his resolve not to tolerate any overt or covert dissidence. He assured the audience that the party would continue to work for aggressive Hindutva and wholeheartedly support the BJP’s choice for the prime minister’s post, Narendra Modi. He regaled the crowd by attacking Rahul Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. Manohar Joshi had lamented that Uddhav was too mild and toed the chief minster’s line on many issues.
Uddhav made it clear that he was playing the politics of addition and was not interested in quarrels with other parties. He exhorted Shiv Sainiks to return back to the main party fold, a call obviously aimed at those who had left the party for the MNS or the NCP.
While he seems to have cleared one hurdle, the way ahead is going to be hard and long and test his patience at every turn.

   Prakash Bal Joshi

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