Mumbai: In a significant generational change, the Shiv Sena on Tuesday elevated 27-year-old Aaditya Thackeray, son of party president Uddhav Thackeray and currently chief of Sena’s youth wing Yuva Sena, to the Ashtapradhan Mandal, a group of top Sena leaders.

Apart from him, there are seven leaders in the Mandal, named after a group formed by Marathi icon and 17th century ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji to run his administration. Leaders in this group are just below the party president in hierarchy. Apart from Aaditya Thackeray, the party’s national executive also elevated four other senior leaders to this position.

Aaditya Thackeray, a history graduate from Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, also has a law degree from K.C. College. He started taking interest in Shiv Sena affairs in 2008.

In October 2012, an emotional Bal Thackeray, addressing the Sena cadres in a recorded video, urged his followers to take care of Aaditya just as they had of Uddhav. The Sena founder died on 17 November the same year. Uddhav, who was made working president of the party in 2003 by his father, formally took over as the party chief (Paksha Pramukh) on 23 January, 2013.

On Tuesday, the Shiv Sena’s national executive re-elected him as the party chief. In his speech, Uddhav thanked party cadres for electing Aaditya as one of the leaders, but dismissed talk of dynastic rule. “People talk about gharaneshahi (dynastic rule) but I don’t give a damn. Balasaheb had explained long back the difference between ghareneshahi and parampara (tradition). The Thackeray family has a long parampara of serving the people of Maharashtra," Uddhav said about Aaditya’s elevation.

Aaditya cut his teeth in Mumbai university politics in December 2010 when the Sena’s student wing won 8 out of 10 university senate seats. Since then, he has been active in university politics. He was a vocal critic of Maharashtra education minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vinod Tawde when university exam results were delayed last year.

Of late, he has started taking more interest in the mainstream political affairs of the Sena and Maharashtra. In the last couple of years, he has supported a nightlife policy for Mumbai with a clear attempt to project himself as the leader of the aspirational youth in the city which the Shiv Sena has ruled since the mid-1990s.

In December, he said the Sena would walk out of the Maharashtra government within a year. He has also travelled extensively across the state and accompanied Uddhav last year when the latter reached out to farmers to build the Shiv Sena campaign for a blanket loan waiver. With his frequent tweets and social media outreach via Facebook Live on a number of issues, Aaditya has also aggressively positioned the party line on social media and got a large number of young Shiv Sena workers to take social media seriously. He has 1.4 million followers on Twitter.

Shiv Sena functionaries say Aaditya’s elevation is aimed at reaching out to young voters ahead of the next general and assembly elections. On Tuesday, Uddhav Thackeray also declared that the Sena would contest all elections in the future on its own.

“Aaditya saheb has infused Shiv Sena with young energy and with his initiatives to improve Mumbai’s civic life and youth politics, he has already become the darling of youth in Maharashtra. He has been observing things very closely for the last several years and there is a very sensible and articulate politician in him who could provide the next generation leadership to the party," said a Sena veteran, requesting anonymity.

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