Party needs to come up with inventive thinking, say observers
Although Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was discharged from Mumbai’s Sir H.N. Reliance hospital after three weeks following a cervical spine surgery, it will be a while before he takes to the field in person.
The Chief Minister’s absence has left a number of problems awaiting his personal attention, besides compelling the Winter Session of the State Legislature to be held in Mumbai instead of the traditional venue of Nagpur (in the Vidarbha region).
The convalescent Mr. Thackeray faces a host of challenges impacting the smooth functioning of the tripartite ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ coalition government of the Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
They range from urgent ones demanding the Chief Minister’s personal attention, like the drawn-out transport strike by employees of the cash-strapped Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) employees to critical bureaucratic matters such as appointing the successor to the Director General of Police (DGP), who is due for retirement soon.
The MSRTC strike, which began in late October and intensified throughout November, has paralysed the transport infrastructure in the State’s rural hinterland.
“With desperate staffers bent upon their demand of merger of the MSRTC with the State government and a general loss of faith among MSRTC employees in the ruling government in particular and politics in general, it appears that the Gordian knot to this knotty problem can only be cut by Mr. Thackeray’s mediation and personal assurances to the desperate workers,” says a Mumbai-based analyst.
This apart, the long-term effects of Mr. Thackeray’s health problems could affect the fortunes of his party in the upcoming civic polls to 10 important municipal corporations scheduled to be held in February 2022, say analysts.
The civic bodies include the cash-rich Mumbai, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporations, along with the politically vital Nashik, Nagpur and Solapur Corporations.
According to election watchers, the Chief Minister’s convalescence would mean that he may not be able to campaign effectively for the municipal polls, which is a little over two months away.
Mr. Thackeray is undoubtedly the most popular and effective face of his party at the moment.
The Chief Minister has succeeded in silencing political Cassandras who predicted the end of the Sena after the death of its founder and late supremo, the charismatic Bal Thackeray, in 2012.
But while Mr. Thackeray’s seemingly unspectacular yet calm style of leadership projecting earnestness and sincerity has generally met with the public’s approbation, the Sena faces a major problem with its second-rung leadership.
“This crisis with a strong second-line leadership has been festering for a while now. Despite strenuous efforts at projecting [Environment Minister] Aaditya Thackeray as the Sena’s next chief, he has a long way to go before he can successfully garner the kind of mass appeal that his father has secured,” said a city-based election watcher.
True, no one predicted that the nature and photography-loving Uddhav Thackeray would succeed Bal Thackeray and become CM one day.
But that does not detract from the fact that the Sena’s leadership after the Chief Minister is not particularly promising in terms of regional or national appeal.
Aaditya’s maternal cousin, Varun Sardesai, the general secretary’s of the party’s youth wing – the Yuva Sena – is projected as the Sena’s ‘Young Turk’, exuding the traditional Sena spirit of aggression.
Yet, Mr. Sardesai is considered far too raw an operator to make much impact.
Veteran Sena leader Subhash Desai, the State’s Industries Minister, is getting on his years (he will turn 80 next July) while party warhorse Eknath Shinde’s influence is limited to his turf of Thane.
Similarly, Sena MP Anil Desai has long been considered a ‘backroom boy’ while Vinayak Raut wields influence only in the Konkan.
That leaves the Sena’s other prominent face besides Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray – chief spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut.
While the acerbic Mr. Raut had been making hectic efforts over the last several months to expand the party’s base in Pune, particularly in Pimpri-Chinchwad and in Nashik, his appeal as a mass leader is severely limited.
The party’s grip in areas outside Mumbai and the Konkan is tenuous at best, with the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation continuing to remain the Shiv Sena’s lifeline.
“The Sena, despite having the Chief Minister’s post, needs to do some inventive thinking if it wants to expand across Maharashtra. Right now, it seems only Uddhav Thackeray has the kind of pan-Maharashtra appeal needed for the party’s growth,” said senior political analyst Vivek Bhavsar.
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