By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Dec 24 (IANS): In a peculiar set of political events, the Shiv Sena founded in June 1966 by the late Balasaheb Thackeray unexpectedly ‘split after a mass rebellion in June 2022 -- and the legendary cartoonist-turned-politicians political and Hindutva legacies are now up for grabs by at least three political entities.
Four months after the June revolt, the faction led by former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was rechristened ‘Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray)' and the splinter group led by (current) Chief Minister Eknath Shinde was named as ‘Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena', and both were allotted new poll symbols.
A legal battle continues in the Supreme Court between the BSS and SS (UBT) with both staking claim as the ‘original Shiv Sena' and hence the torch-bearer of Balasaheb Thackeray's legacy.
Much earlier in 2006, Uddhav Thackeray's estranged cousin, Raj Thackeray, walked out of the Shiv Sena to launch his own outfit, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which is largely based on his uncle's political ideology.
Today, the three ‘Senas' which never fail to invoke Balasaheb Thackeray's name in every breath, are puffing and panting to bag his Hindutva legacy and political legitimacy, but the road may not be exactly a super expressway towards this lofty ambition.
The Sena (UBT) boasts of leading three alliance governments in its 56-year-old history, first in 1995-1999 with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), later 2014-2019 again with the BJP, and a half-term (2019-2022) with the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party.
In its first ruling ‘avatar', thanks to the ‘remote control' wielded powerfully by Balasaheb Thackeray, everybody ‘behaved', including the BJP which was content as the second partner with a Deputy CM in that regime (1995-1999) which saw two CMs - Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane.
Balasaheb Thackeray passed away in November 2012 and two years later, the ‘remote control' slipped into the hands of the BJP with the Sena becoming the second fiddle, without even the post of Dy CM.
A riled Uddhav Thackeray hit back in 2019 to team up with the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, and the ‘sweet revenge' became a major political humiliation for the BJP.
He also became the first from the Thackeray clan to occupy the state's highest political office, before he was ©rudely unseated by the Shinde-Fadnavis combine in June 2022.
As far as the BSS is concerned, Shinde first got power in alliance with the BJP and a few months later his breakaway group became a formal party with a name, though later the ‘flight' of industries and his name coming up in an alleged Nagpur landscam and other issues proved to be a setback.
After a fortuitous start in 2009 with 13 MLAs, the MNS suddenly seemed to have floundered politically, largely owing to Raj Thackeray's ‘confusion' that confounded the party and it was reduced from 13 MLAs to just a lone legislator, plus some token presence in a few local civic bodies.
Relegated to the political pavement, the MNS has been attempting to bounce back to the main road with Raj Thackeray's apparent ding-dong and audio-video agenda further stupefying the party's rank and file.
With a series of major civic elections due in 2023 and the Assembly elections in 2024, the three parties are now all daggers drawn - to fight amongst themselves and outdo each other for Balasaheb Thackeray' Hindutva ‘crown'.
The Sena (UBT) has the obvious edge in the upcoming electoral wars -- the magical Thackeray family name continues in a direct line with Uddhav and son Aditya. He enjoys the solid backing of the NCP-Congress and other like-minded parties, the ‘sympathy factor' after his unceremonious ouster. The ongoing hounding of the (Thackeray) duo and others by the current regime will be a bonus.
Still struggling with a crisis of credibility, the BSS enjoys the full backing and all the resources of the BJP, and Shinde has jettisoned several MVA policies to push certain controversial decisions, ignoring all protests.
Undoubtedly, it has made big brother BJP smile fondly and even announce that the BSS-BJP will not only complete its full tenure (30 months) but also sweep the civic and assembly polls, despite the hanging sword of the apex court verdict.
That leaves the MNS, still doubtful, debating and dithering -- whether to ally with the BSS-BJP or only the BJP, or support them from outside or go solo, or wait for Raj Thackeray -- who was once summoned by the ED in August 2019 -- to come up with a new brainwave.
It is clear that the next round of elections -- civic or assembly -- will prove crucial in deciding who among the three bitter contenders will inherit Balasaheb Thackeray's Hindutva heirloom and come up trumps in state politics in the long run.