Mumbai: The emotional upsurge that saw an estimated 1.9 million people throng to pay their last respects to Bal Thackeray at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on Sunday came even as political analysts tried to guess what the death of the Shiv Sena leader would mean for Maharashtra politics, and to the relationship between the estranged Thackeray cousins, Uddhav and Raj.
The funeral procession did not provide any clues of a rapprochement, as Raj Thackeray, president of the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) party, chose to walk with the other mourners instead of accompanying Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, his wife Rashmi and son Aditya, president of the Yuva Sena.
Sharmila, Raj’s wife, however, went with the other Thackerays on the carriage that carried Thackeray’s body to Shivaji Park.
There may be some electoral understanding between the two cousins ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha and state assembly polls, many analysts said, but an outright merger of the two parties seems remote as either of the cousins is unlikely to play second fiddle to the other.
“One should not read too much into what happened at today’s funeral procession, but it will be difficult for both the men to set aside differences of almost a decade, which finally culminated in Raj walking out in 2006, in a few days and start working together once again,” said Deepak Pawar, a professor of political science at K.J. Somaiya college. “And there will be people on both sides who are beneficiaries of the split and they will like to keep both parties treading different paths.”
A leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an ally of the Shiv Sena, also spoke of a possible electoral partnership between the cousins but ruled out a merger of their parties.
“We have seen that most business families or political families split after the patriarch or matriarch of the family is no more on the scene, but the split in the Thackeray family happened even when patriarch was very much on the scene,” this person said, declining to be named. “So, I think there will be some electoral understanding between them but it is unlikely that there will be a merger between the Sena and the MNS.”
In the 2009 assembly polls, MNS won 13 seats and finished second in 21 and third in another 15 constituencies. There are 288 lawmakers in the Maharashtra assembly. The Shiv Sena and the BJP together hold 90 seats.
“If Sena-BJP and the MNS come together, they can pose a formidable challenge to the ruling Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) combine during the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections,” said columnist Pratap Asbe, a former political editor of Marathi daily Maharashtra Times.
It remains to be seen how the relationship between the Shiv Sena and the BJP shapes up after the death of Bal Thackeray, as it will not only determine their fates and that of the MNS, but also the rest of Maharashtra’s political landscape.
The Congress party too lost its most popular face in the state when Vilasrao Deshmukh died earlier this year. NCP president and Union farm minister Sharad Pawar, a top leader of the Congress-NCP combine, has said he will not contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Although Ajit Pawar, former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and a nephew of Pawar, is likely to lead the NCP, the situation is still unclear in the state unit of congress. Ajit Pawar resigned as deputy chief minister in September on allegations of his involvement in irregularities in irrigation projects in the state.
“The Congress (central) leadership doesn’t look kindly at regional satraps because of which they hardly allow any popular face to emerge in any state,” said Prakash Akolkar, political editor of Marathi language daily Sakal. “As result of this, the Congress doesn’t have any mass base leader in Maharashtra.”
The generation of Sena activists who risked prison at the asking of Bal Thackeray no longer exists and the present workers are as opportunistic as those in other political parties, so they will like to wait and watch and see what happens during the 2014 elections, Akolkar said.
“The BJP will attempt to play the Sena and the MNS against each other, but today the BJP in the state and at the national level is more fractured than the Sena, so it will not be in its interest to be over-adventurous,” said Deepak Pawar. “In fact, I think BJP’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha, Gopinath Munde, and Uddhav will try to accommodate each other.”
After Bal Thackeray’s death, Munde is now the senior-most leader in the BJP-Sena alliance and the BJP, India’s main opposition party, will try to take advantage of this to ensure that it becomes the big brother in the state alliance, Akolkar said.