MUMBAI: Uddhav Thackeray has found a party man he can rely on. The Shiv Sena’s decision whether or not to join Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in Maharashtra will be mostly influenced by Anil Desai. Sena’s bespectacled member in Rajya Sabha has rapidly emerged as the second most important leader after its chief Uddhav Thackeray.
Uddhav has empowered Desai, 57, to hold negotiations with the BJP on its possibilities of joining the government. If Desai succeeds in ‘achieving’ his master’s goals, he could be awarded the post of Deputy Chief Minister. According to a source in Shiv Sena, Desai has been working as Uddhav’s shadow since the party’s 27-year-old alliance with BJP came to an end and is chalking out the party’s strategy. He has opened the backroom talks with Sena’s former ally and is negotiating the power-sharing formula with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Desai has proposed 10 berths for Sena in the Maharashtra government.
His growing influence in the Shiv Sena is significant against the backdrop of Uddhav keeping his seniors at an arm’s length from the decision-making process. Earlier, Uddhav had to depend on senior leaders Manohar Joshi, Subhash Desai, Ramdas Kadam and Sanjay Raut for taking decisions and networking in other parties. He realised that they were often creating embarrassing situations for him. Joshi is the most senior, but Uddhav believes that his interests are limited to himself rather than the party. Joshi had publicly said that Uddhav did not have the aggression like his father late Bal Thackeray. Desai fills the gap. He is excellent at managing elections and back room activities. He has played a major role in managing the party’s resources and floated ideas like coining slogan, UTha Maharashtra (Wake up, Maharashtra), indirectly projecting Uddhav for the CM’s post. He is close to Uddhav and has not created any controversy yet. He is known as the party’s sober face. Uddhav and Desai’s rise in the politics is almost parallel. Desai was an assistant manager with the United Indian Insurance before joining Shiv Sena in 2004. Uddhav had taken the party’s reins as its executive president and noticed Desai’s potential, good administrative skills and command over English. He appointed Desai, a law graduate, as the party’s secretary giving him charge of elections and legal matters. Uddhav also asked him to look into the affairs of the party’s “white collar wing” Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samititi (SLS) to get maximum locals recruited in the government establishments.