The projection of Aaditya Thackeray as a suave, sophisticated English-speaking individual who can hold his own with the best of the bold and beautiful is something that does not connect with the grass roots Shiv Sainiks.
“When people in Maharashtra are drowning and have been flooded out of their homes, the Shiv Sena is busy building up Aaditya Thackeray as chief minister of the state,” mockingly Vanchit Bahujan Agadhi President Prakash Ambedkar said at a meeting on August 11.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is less public but sniggers nevertheless. They have always thought the Shiv Sena, founded on regionalism and for the Marathi manoos, has little future if their GenNext can hardly speak Marathi, writes poetry in English and is more often than not in the news for his style and demeanour, for being seen with female actors and generally being a darling of the Page 3 crowd in Mumbai, rather than any social or political work that touches the lives of the people. Even those issues that Aaditya lays ownership to — like the ban of plastics in Maharashtra — is a talking point for the classes and puts the masses to great inconvenience.
So even the ordinary Shiv Sainiks are bewildered. They have always been rooted to the ground, getting down to their knees in the mud and slush of the slums to help their core constituency with issues such as leaking (or dry) municipal water taps, cheating fair price stores, exploitative government officials or a film that they think militates against Indian culture.
So now they are most flummoxed when a public relations agency attempts to whitewash that image of grassroots Sena workers and projects Aaditya as someone they can never connect with — a suave, sophisticated English-speaking individual who can hold his own with the best of the bold and beautiful.
The Thackerays are suitably proud of Aaditya, among the first of his generation to go to college and speak English with great fluency. His grandfather and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had seen this disconnect with its core constituency (the Marathi manoos) coming long ago and raged about the new generation of Maharashtrians unable to speak their mother tongue with any degree of fluency. That rage was directed not so much at the outside world than his own grandchildren who spoke English with their mothers and stumbled in Marathi while speaking to their fathers. Today those fears have come true.
However, Aaditya is merely a reflection of the aspirational Maharashtrian who no longer wants to remain restricted to one constituency and wishes to rise above her moorings to be able to go to the best schools and colleges and take her place among the high-wage earners in India. That is a far cry from the turners, loaders and fitters at the Mazgon docks or airports that Bal Thackeray had restricted them to for decades, keeping them undereducated and merely a force of street fighters to suit his politics.
However, these aspirational Maharashtrians are now looking more to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the future and have no room in their lives for a Shiv Sena that is unable to move beyond its parochialism and paranoia of the 1960s that restricts their future to the slums, the streets beyond it, merely the city or at best the state.
If we move beyond aspirations and look at Hindu militancy, there too the Shiv Sena comes off as a weak copy of the BJP and the youth would rather go with Modi again than with Uddhav Thackeray who can only demand that the Ram temple be built at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, but will never be able to build it on his own.
So who are the Thackerays catering to by attempting to turn Aaditya into a brand? His hobnobbing with the Page 3 crowd has not helped the party’s voter base in any manner. While its good showing in the Lok Sabha polls was owing entirely to its alliance with the BJP, the 2017 municipal elections that it fought on its own showed that the bold and beautiful still opted for the BJP or the Congress while the Sena remained confined to the lower middle class voters of Mumbai.
So it is their blessings that Aaditya ought to have sought on his Jan Aashirwad Yatra across Maharashtra instead of ruffling the feathers of the core Shiv Sainiks who were kept off limits by his PR managers who thought they spoiled the look of the brand that they were setting out to make of Aaditya Thackeray. Before the floods, at an event in Nashik there were even clashes between Sena workers and the PR managers with the Shiv Sainiks grumbling they were not there to just arrange the chairs and roll out the red carpet — the PR managers had made them pull down their posters with Aaditya's photographs saying they diluted the brand they were trying to build.
The emphasis on Aaditya’a potential as a chief minister also set off a poster war with the BJP, the latter borrowing a line from the Modi campaign and saying ‘mukhya mantri aayega toh BJP ka hee’.
The entire exercise seems not just juvenile but also a pipe dream. However, it has the sanction of the elders in the party and that is what makes it so sadly disconnected with reality.Sujata Anandan is a senior journalist and author. Views are personal.Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro and gain access to curated markets data, trading recommendations, equity analysis, investment ideas, insights from market gurus and much more. Get Moneycontrol PRO for 1 year at price of 3 months at 289. Use code FREEDOM.