Through the ‘70s, Shiv Sena was gaining power. Bal Thackeray’s campaign against the South Indians created quite a scare among the population there. Many believed that South Indians would be asked to leave Bombay. The ‘70s and ‘80s (with some spill over into the ‘90s) were the days of bandhs. While all parties called for bandhs for all sorts of reasons, Bombayites knew not to venture out if there was a Shiv Sena bandh. The party held everyone in a thrall.
Rise and Separation
During the mid ‘90s, pictures of members other than Bal Thackeray from Shiv Sena started appearing in the media and one and all believed that Raj Thackeray was Bal Thackeray’s son; so strong was their resemblance – both physically and politically. It was a surprise to learn that he was the nephew (his father was Bal Thackeray’s younger brother and mother was the younger sister of Balasaheb’s wife, Meena Thackeray.) As time passed, it was evident that Raj was Balasaheb’s true successor. He was clearly the second-in-charge. He was motivated and strident. He had the trust amongst the party members and workers. And he was ambitious.
It was as much as surprise to the populace as to Raj when Bal Thackeray announced his son Uddhav as his successor around the mid-2000s thus sidelining Raj and dismissing his work and standing in the party. Miffed, Raj broke away and formed his own party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). While publicly swearing by his uncle, Raj nevertheless created a fracture in Shiv Sena’s vote bank and even within the party itself.
Not Very Subtle People
Raj reiterates that his uncle is his political mentor and ideologue. He has proved this by the political path he has chosen. Like his uncle who opposed South Indians in Bombay, Raj declared a war against migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar into Mumbai. During the riots in Bombay, Bal Thackeray carved a very strong Hindu identity for Shiv Sena. Over the years, with a lot of bombast and consistent messaging, Raj has carved a Marathi manoos niche for himself. (His Marathi manoos posturing came back to bite him when his son entered collage and chose a foreign language as his second language choice instead of Marathi.)
Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray were always known as hot-headed, disruptive strongmen who chose intimidation and violence as their voice. MNS has trod the same path. With Marathi signboards on all shops and offices, imposing the use of Mumbai in place of Bombay and the clash over Chhath Pooja in Bombay – Raj has created controversies to remain in the news and issued threats to establish his standing. These tactics had worked for Shiv Sena. They have also worked for MNS.
Personal Life and Bollywood
In his personal life too, Raj has emulated his uncle. Balasaheb had an affinity for dogs as does Raj. His menagerie has had German Shepherds, Great Danes and a couple of Pugs. They are quite his pride and joy and even were a conversation piece when Ratan Tata visited him!
Similarly, as with his uncle, Raj understands, uses and abuses (when it suits him) Bollywood to his gain. He cried foul over a statement Jaya Bachchan had made and ensured that he got a public apology from the biggest star of them all – Amitabh Bachchan. Pictures with stars like Amitabh and Salman get wide coverage. It is also possible that like Bal Thackeray, he too at some point will start producing movies via another member of his family.
In the meanwhile, today, Raj Thackeray’s MNS is a strong regional party in Maharashtra and as the elections come by, they are assured of some seats definitely.
By Sujata Garimella