MUMBAI: A sense of responsibility and an urge to win appear to have transformed Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray from within. Contrary to his earlier image of an inaccessible leader, Uddhav is now not only meeting grass root workers but his focus appears on strengthening the party’s network at the shakha (unit) level. In his maiden test after his father and the party’s magnet Bal Thackeray’s demise in 2012, Uddhav has emerged as a seasoned and conciliatory heir. He did not lose his cool after some BJP leaders openly sought snapping of ties with the Shiv Sena. In a rare scene, he overlooked his advisors’ suggestion to give a befitting reply to the BJP. At the same time, he diplomatically put himself in the race for the Chief Minister’s post.
The bespectacled leader has visited 10 unit offices of the party in Mumbai in the last fortnight. This is a first since he took over as executive president in 2003 that he has preferred to mix with the grass root workers instead of summoning them to his residence in Bandra.
On Monday, when Uddhav reached a unit office in Jogeshwari, he was three hours behind schedule. But even then, almost 200 workers were waiting for him. Accompanied by his wife Rashmi, Uddhav chose not to deliver any speech. Instead he shook hands with the workers and asked them whether they had started preparations for the polls at the booth level. He took stock of the preparations, chatted some more and left after 40 minutes, leaving behind a rejuvenated workforce. “His mere presence at the local office was enough to boost our morale,” said worker Ankush Mayekar.
Uddhav has been on a state-wide tour for a month. He has mainly concentrated on the areas of Marathwada and western Maharashtra where Shiv Sena has scored well in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections. “Uddhavji is touring the state in a way similar to 2009 when he had visited each and every district demanding loan waivers for debt ridden farmers,” said Shiv Sena legislator Ashish Jaiswal.
To check rebellion and dissent in the party, Uddhav has assured sitting legislators another opportunity to contest the election. He also has asked the sitting legislators to take responsibility of the adjacent constituencies and work for the party’s victory there too. “This shows that Uddhavji believes in collective responsibility. We have taken this as a challenge,” said Ramdas Kadam, a senior leader.
Uddhav has diluted Shiv Sena’s otherwise aggressive stand on BJP as a conciliatory measure. He has not criticised BJP harshly like Thackeray used to do in every election. On the contrary, he is tactically building pressure on BJP through diplomacy.
Uddhav has assigned party spokesperson Sanjay Raut the responsibility to project him as the future CM. This is a move to counter BJP’s claim to the coveted post. Uddhav has maintained that the decision of electing the CM will be taken after the election. However, Raut either in his statements or newspaper columns has been stating that Uddhav will be the next CM because Shiv Sainiks have already chosen him for the post. Such silent pressure is a complete first in a street-smart party like Shiv Sena.
The BJP believes Uddhav has taken a soft stand on it because he knows his party could register a magnificent win in the Lok Sabha election only because of the Narendra Modi wave. “I agree that Uddhav has become more approachable but I think he has donned the new look out of some compulsions. He knows well that this is the last opportunity for him to prove his mettle. He could be in a commanding position only if Shiv Sena wins more seats than us,” a senior BJP leader said.