As was evident, Raj’s rise within the Sena was not without heartburn, especially among the old guard. Like most transitions, this would lead to some shake-up within the party.
Insiders claim that Raj, who was aggressive, and even brash, would often overrule party veterans who had seen him since his childhood.
Raj would often sit at a popular Chinese restaurant at Shivaji Park with his friends and political associates. “Uddhav’s group felt that instead of this top-down approach the organisation should be built ground-up and the monopoly of some leaders needed to be challenged. This is also where sparks flew,” said the BVS worker-turned journalist quoted earlier.
“Raj was blunt. The party’s old guard was uneasy at his rising political graph. They gradually started pitching Uddhav as a counterweight. Though Uddhav formally entered politics later with his career trajectory picking up post-1996, the seeds for his launch were sown during this period. However, there was consternation at the rise of the cousins as the Shiv Sena was attacking the Congress for perpetuating a cult of dynasty,” said an associate of Raj Thackeray since his BVS days.
The veteran Shiv Sena beat reporter and Thackeray family associate recalled that after Raj and later Uddhav became active in the Shiv Sena, some senior leaders had voiced their apprehensions in a party meeting, only to be blasted by the Sena supremo.
While the Shiv Sena leadership, which had been associated with the party since its launch, was greying, Raj attracted young blood. These two generations had their distinct way of doing things and hence, friction was obvious, especially in a party like the Shiv Sena where the rank and file are known for aggression. Some in the Shiv Sena’s old guard also felt Raj’s rise would lead to a decline in their stature.
In 1990, Shishir Shinde, then a Sena vibhag pramukh (division chief with an area covering one Lok Sabha constituency in Mumbai), had urged Bal Thackeray that Uddhav be nominated for the state assembly from Mulund instead of the BJP’s Wamanrao Parab. Similar demands were made by Shiv Sainiks from Parel by Bal Thackeray’s own admission.
Shinde later identified himself as a Raj loyalist and was elected to the state legislative assembly as an MNS MLA in 2009. After falling out with Raj in 2017, Shinde returned to the Shiv Sena the following year.
Asked about who would inherit his legacy, Thackeray in an interview in 1992 said that “there was no urgency to do so as it was not decided when he [Thackeray] would die”. Speaking to Maharao, Thackeray dismissed speculation in the media about a succession battle between his son and nephew.
While denying he had “imposed” them on the Shiv Sena, Thackeray said “Dadu” and “Raja’s” organisational work had lessened his load.
It was one of Thackeray’s associates, Madhav Deshpande, who gave vent to this simmering discontent.
In March 1984, the Congress government had managed to push through a bill that gave it the right to supersede elected representatives in the cash-rich BMC and appoint an administrator, then municipal commissioner, DM Sukhtankar.
The civic body came under the administrator’s control from 1 April 1984, breaking a 107-year-old tradition. In the legislature, the bill was opposed by politicians across party lines like Hashu Advani (BJP), FM Pinto (Janata Dal) and Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena. Despite tumultuous scenes, it was pushed through. The BMC general body too saw uproar.
In 1985, the Shiv Sena, which was smarting after its electoral reverses during and after the Emergency, when it supported Indira Gandhi, received a shot in the arm. Maharashtra chief minister Vasantdada Patil had a running battle with Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) strongman Murli Deora. After Sena veteran Pramod Navalkar made an allegation in the Maharashtra legislative council about the Centre’s alleged plan to bring Mumbai under Central rule by severing it from Maharashtra, Patil gave the Shiv Sena a political opportunity that would ensure it seized power in the civic body.
“There is a chance that some are planning to carve Mumbai out of Maharashtra...But, if such attempts are made, we must stay alert and oppose it,” he said. Vaibhav Purandare mentions how extensive reports appeared in the regional and national newspapers about the Central government’s “plan” to make Mumbai centrally administered. One of the reasons for this was its importance as India’s richest city.
Patil’s statement set the cat among the pigeons. Veteran socialist leader and a stalwart of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, SM Joshi, said since the chief minister himself had made such a statement “some such plan could really be afoot”. It was obvious that the chief minister’s statement had sent ripples among Marathi speakers in Mumbai, who feared being marginalised, and the Shiv Sena was quick to latch on to them.
Launching the Shiv Sena’s election campaign for the April 1985 BMC elections at Nehru Nagar in Kurla, Bal Thackeray lashed out at “plans” to break Mumbai – the jewel in Maharashtra’s crown – from the state. “Mumbai belongs to Maharashtrians...The Shiv Sena will teach a lesson to those conspiring to break Mumbai from Maharashtra,” he thundered.
The issue dominated media space. Socialist veteran Madhu Dandavate warned that moves to alienate Mumbai from Maharashtra would be met with mass protests. Unlike other parties which also accommodated non-Marathis as candidates, the Shiv Sena, which fought the elections alone, after attempts at an alliance with the Opposition Progressive Democratic Front fell through, fielded only Maharashtrians.
Uddhav, who had completed his bachelor’s in applied arts from JJ Institute and started an advertising agency with two friends called Chaurang, joined the Shiv Sena’s BMC poll campaign.
Artist Ravi Paranjape’s illustrations were also used in the campaign. When the results of the BMC elections were declared, it was clear that the beneficiary of this linguistic polarisation was the Shiv Sena, which swept seventy-four of the 170 seats, with the Congress (I) at a distant thirty-seven, followed by the BJP (thirteen) and Janata Dal (ten). A newspaper even credited Patil for the Sena’s success! Speaking in a victory rally, a jubilant Thackeray said no one would dare to break Mumbai from Maharashtra. He promised to devise a way to stop the influx of outsiders to Mumbai.
After the 1985 BMC polls, the Shiv Sena’s Chhagan Bhujbal was elected the fifth mayor of Mumbai.
There is an interesting postscript to the Shiv Sena victory in the civic body and then chief minister Vasantdada Patil’s role in it. GR Khairnar, the BMC official who later earned the moniker of Mumbai’s “Demolition Man” by taking on the underworld and destroying their illegal constructions, had angered Vasantdada Patil by demolishing unauthorised parts of a hotel owned by his stepson Chandrakant in Mumbai in May 1985.
Khairnar said he was summoned to Bal Thackeray’s residence. Thackeray told Khairnar that he had been called by Patil to his official bungalow the previous day and asked to teach Khairnar “a lesson”.
“I told Balasaheb this was a criminal offence. But Balasaheb told me that he had to sustain the Shiv Sena and needed Patil’s help for it,” said Khairnar, who had run-ins with Thackeray and the Shiv Sena later.
Excerpted with permission from The Cousins Thackeray: Uddhav, Raj And The Shadow Of Their Senas, Dhaval Kulkarni, Pebnguin Ebury.