Breaking from the usual practice of the first family of Shiv Sena to stay away from contesting elections, Aditya Thackeray is all set to contest the Maharashtra assembly polls.
Maharashtra's political landscape is witnessing historic times with Shiv Sena's 29-year-old Aaditya Thackeray, a youth wing leader and son of party president Uddhav Thackeray, breaking from the family's self-imposed restrictions and taking a plunge into the electoral arena – a first in three generations for the Maratha state's first family.
Aaditya's late grandfather Balasaheb Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in 1966 but barred his family members from fighting polls. Never ever has a member of the Thackeray family contested a poll or been elected as a representative on a constitutional post. In 2014, the Thackeray clan was about to see a break from the tradition when Balasabhe's nephew, Uddhav's cousin and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj stopped short of contesting on an Assembly seat.
Aaditya's big decision to contest the October 21 Assembly polls shows the growing aspiration of NDA ally, Shiv Sena, which has taken pride in being the “king maker” over the past five decades, to play a bigger role not just in state politics but also at the national stage.
The electoral debut of Aaditya is likely to come with an assured berth for him in the Maharashtra Cabinet after the probable win of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in the forthcoming elections. The grooming of the Thakeray family's scion in electoral politics and public office is also likely to pave the way for the Sena for setting eyes on a bigger role for itself at the national stage.
Uddhav's son could emerge as a potential chief ministerial candidate in the coming years – a first for the Sena that has a rich political legacy. His entry into electoral process will also lay the ground for the Sena to regain its position as senior partner in the National Democratic Alliance in the state. For several years, the party has been playing the role of a junior partner to the BJP.
Observes believe that, in due course, Aaditya will qualify himself to be able to stake a claim for the CM's seat in the alliance. With growth in Aaditya's stature, the Sena may also go it alone in the state and distance itself from the BJP, whose support it has been taking to serve in top public posts.
As fortunes of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) show no sign of revival and Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) spreading its sphere of influence as the key Opposition force in Maharashtra, the changing dynamics of state politics have forced the Sena to chart a special route to invest in the future of Aaditya, whom the Sena forsees as heading for long stint in the mantralaya – the Maharashtra government's secretariat.
A combination of Sena and VBA could also be a possibility in times of unfavourable winds for the BJP. In the future, Aaditya may also serve as the binding gel for the Sena and NCP as both the parties thrive on politics of Maratha pride and may come together to remain relevant and emerge from the shadows of big players like the BJP and the Congress.
These two non-BJP alliance possibilities, if at all they take shape, may unlock many permutations and combinations for three-corner battles in the state. But for now, the Sena and the BJP would like to continue their alliance for as long as possible so that Aaditya gets groomed enough for a possible CM innings in future.
In Maharashtra, the big decision by Aaditya to contest election may also spell trouble for the decaying Congress. His growing stature as someone capable of serving in a public post and in government may give an excuse to many disillusioned Congressmen to join the Sena fold in the name of strengthening Maratha unity. This may especially help those Congressmen who are keen to leave their party but don't see the BJP and the NCP as viable options. Aaditya, in other words, could emerge as an alternative to any BJP CM candidate if parties like the NCP and disgruntled Congressmen support him in the coming decade.
The Sena has nothing to lose from the experiment of announcing the electoral debut of Aaditya. The party, which has controlled the BMC and other municipal constitutional bodies for several years, has taken moved in the direction of natural progression by introducing to young voters a CM probable of their age. Aaditya's task, in the context of millennials, is cut out as he would like to hold on to Marathi youngsters whose family leanings have always been with Shiv Sena but who themselves do not identify so much with Bal Thackery like their elders do. For the young voters, Aaditya is set to be projected as the future CM they would want to invest in, especially in the name of Maratha pride and unity.
By picking Worli for his Assembly poll debut, Aaditya has also taken care not to venture into unfamiliar territory. The Assembly seat is considered to be one of the safest for Shiv Sena. At present, the seat is represented by Sena MLA Sunil Shinde who trounced former NCP leader Sachin Ahir in 2014. Ahir, who represented the constituency as NCP candidate from 2009 to 2014, is now in Sena and Aaditya’s march into the Assembly is just a formality.
The visible effort by the Shiv Sena to build Aaditya's profile as the state's future is conspicuous from the Yuva Sena's new video song dedicated to him. With titles like "Aala rey aala Aaditya," the video carries glimpses of Shiv Sena's rallies addressed by the young leader.
Ever since the rise of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the BJP, Sena has been forced to play second fiddle to the saffron party in the state. Sena's efforts to demand the CM's post in Maharashtra have been easily blunted by the BJP by questioning the absence of a leader in Sena charismatic enough to occupy the coveted post.
Shiv Sena, undoubtedly, is preparing to call the shots in Maharashtra. And for doing so, it will have to, some day, question the dominance of the BJP. The BJP, on the other hand, would want to remain the big brother in the alliance but, at a crunch, would rather concede ground to Sena than other rivals like the Congress and the NCP.
Thus, Aaditya's electoral plunge promises to legitimise Shiv Sena's leadership claim and by ensuring his electoral victory in the coming months the party is all set get him the valuable experience in state governance, making this “son rise” in Western India a watershed moment in India's dynastic politics.