Balasaheb Outplayed Rebellion With One ‘Melodramatic’ Move; Uddhav Appeals To Shiv Sainiks’ Emotions

As Shiv Sena faces rebellion again, a look at how the responses of the father and son – Balasaheb Thackeray and Uddhav – differ, but also resemble.

Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray pay respects to Balasaheb Thackeray and Subhash Chandra Bose. (Image: Twitter/ @OfficeofUT)

In 1991, when Chhagan Bhujbal left Shiv Sena, he was reportedly so scared of a violent backlash from the party and its ‘Sainiks’ that he went into hiding for nearly a month. Today, when Eknath Shinde is leading the rebellion, he has taken the route of running off first to Gujarat and now to Assam, both Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States.

Bhujbal took with him 17 MLAs from rural Maharashtra, Shinde boasts of the backing of 42 MLAs.

So how have the responses by the father and son – the Thackerays – differed? Well, Bhujbal went into hiding and his official residence in Mumbai was reportedly attacked. Balasaheb Thackeray then began recruiting his own, bringing in his son Uddhav and nephew Raj as the “youth leaders”.

CPM leader Ashok Dhawale, in a piece from the year 2000, writes that sections of the press began to attack the “dynastic ambitions” of the Thackeray clan with senior Shiv Sena leaders sharing the same thoughts. So Balasaheb made a “melodramatic move” in 1992, with a signed piece in Saamana announcing that he was resigning from the Shiv Sena once and for all. This worked so well in his favour that thousands of Shiv ‘Sainiks’ pleaded with him to reconsider his decision and held a massive rally outside the Shiv Sena Bhavan. Balasaheb then “magnanimously” acceded to their requests, writes Dhawale. “With this drama, Thackeray emerged stronger than ever, he cut the other SS leaders down to size and the ‘dynastic’ issue was buried for ever.”

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In the present situation, his son Uddhav too has taken a more dramatic approach, making a televised address to the state where he tried to reach out to the rebel MLAs, saying he would quit as party chief is he was told to do so upfront.

He then went on to move out from his official residence ‘Varsha’ on June 22, which looked like a move to emotionally charge up the Shiv ‘Sainiks’ in support of Uddhav.

The Fallout

Bhujbal fell out with Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, with whom he reportedly shared a thick relationship. Bhujbal had started his career in the 1960s with the Shiv Sena, working his way up to becoming a corporator in 1973, and a mayor twice, in 1985 and in 1991. Shinde too has had a long-standing history with the Shiv Sena, and was viewed as Uddhav Thackarey’s loyalist.

Bhujbal left Shiv Sena in 1991, for two reasons. For one, he was angry for being sidelined for Manohar Joshi who was made the Opposition leader in the Maharashtra Assembly, and also for the fact that Balasaheb opposed the Mandal Commission’s reservation policy, which did not bear well for the OBC leader Bhujbal.

Balasaheb was vocal against Bhujbal’s want for supremacy. During an inauguration of a park in March 23, 1991, Congressman Ramrao Adik praised Bhujbal for his good work, and this is how Balasaheb reacted. He retorted with, “He is good at cleaning up. You should take him to clean up the kachra in the Congress.” Not the most subtle jibe at his own party leader. A report in India Today cites that the same day, the Sena mouthpiece Saamana had a cartoon depicting Christ on a donkey with the caption: “The donkey should not mistake that the flowers falling on Christ were meant for him.” This was reportedly a reference to Bhujbal.

By December 1991, he walked out of the Shiv Sena with a group of supporters and joined the Congress under Sharad Pawar’s leadership. He then went along with Pawar when he split from the party and formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

In the present case, it looks like Uddhav had no clue that his close party member was thinking of sinking his government. Shinde has centred his rebellion on the argument that the party under Uddhav has deviated from the principals of Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena. He has pointed to the coalition government that Sena has in Maharashtra with the NCP and the Congress, called the Maha Vikas Aghadi.

“In the last two years under the MVA government, only the coalition partners benefitted while the Shiv Sainiks were left frustrated. While our allies gained strength the Shiv Sena and Sainiks were deliberately weakened. For ensuring the survival of the party and Sainiks, it is necessary to step out of this unnatural alliance. It is time to take a decision for the greater good of Maharashtra,” Shinde has said.

Last year, however, the BJP had stated that Shinde felt he had no real powers, instead Uddhav’s son Aditya was taking charge. Union Minister Narayan Rane, who also served as the chief minister of Maharashtra under the BJP-led government, had said in August, 2021, that Shinde was fed up with his party as he had no powers and was looking for alternatives.

“Though he (Eknath Shinde) is the Urban Development Minister in the MVA government, he is being used only to sign files. The rest is in the hands of ‘Uddhav’s son Aditya Thackeray’, who is also a minister and another person who is not in politics and thus I’m not taking his name. No file from the Urban Development Department can be cleared without approval from Matoshri (Thackeray’s residence),” Rane said.

For now, Shinde denies forming ties with the BJP, while the word is that the Shiv Sena leader has been offered the post of Deputy Chief Minister in the likelihood of forming a new government with the BJP.