MUMBAI ~ It was a meeting of hearts, or so they said. Two brothers bonding in a hospital room, where the elder was an emergency patient, admitted with a dull chest pain, and the other had rushed in from an earlier engagement to lend him moral support. But when the two brothers are the executive president of the Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray, and his cousin, the chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Raj Thackeray, such a meeting raises eyebrows at the very least.
Last week, when Uddhav was rushed to Lilavati Hospital in suburban Bandra, the last person he expected to meet was his estranged cousin Raj. Both had not met since Raj walked out of the Shiv Sena in 2006, blaming his cousin for keeping him from playing an important role in the party. Raj went on to start the MNS, a Sena breakaway, and their bitterness against each other became the talk of Mumbai streets. They levelled a series of allegations against each other and even used inner-family information as political ammunition. Raj, bitter at not being chosen as his uncle Bal Thackeray’s political heir (as expected by Sena supporters), made sure that his party would cramp the Shiv Sena’s electoral prospects
All that seemed forgotten at Lilavati. Incidentally, Raj had rushed back from a political meeting in Alibaug, where he had just taken swipes at his cousin. On hearing of his cousin’s condition, Raj rushed to be by Uddhav’s side. It didn’t stop there, the MNS chief drove Uddhav back to Matoshree, the Sena chief’s residence, where he had not set foot since 2006. Raj, accompanied by wife Sharmila and mother-in-law Kunda, spent a considerable amount of time at his cousin’s residence. Every minute spent together at Matoshree raised the hopes of party workers of both leaders.
There is talk of Raj softening his rigid political stand against Uddhav, now that the latter has been diagnosed with three blocked arteries, and has been recommended a bypass coronary surgery. Raj has promised to stay by his cousin’s side during his recovery. At the meeting, they did not speak about politics.
Uddhav is a teetotaller and non-smoker, and his cousin the opposite. The Sena executive president is believed to be disturbed by his diagnosis, and will be grateful for the support of his cousin.
Sena chief Bal Thackeray, too, is ailing and his frequent visits to Lilavati Hospital have not gone unnoticed by Mumbaikars.
But by rushing to the hospital, Raj has clearly put Uddhav in a spot—if rigid posturing is adopted by Uddhav, it will not go down well with Marathi voters. Since both cousins are competing for this constituency, Uddhav will have to tread very carefully in the future.
The health of the Sena chief and now Uddhav will not be lost on Shiv Sainiks. On the other hand, Raj does seem to be healthy. This will be an important aspect in the selection of a new leader in the event of a political merger of the Shiv Sena and the MNS.
However, it is unlikely that Uddhav, 51, and Raj, 44, will come together. In the years since they became political adversaries, both have grown in political stature. They are men who lay down diktats and run their parties like dictators. Though they talk about democracy within their parties, that is a myth. The wives and children of both Uddhav and Raj loom large within their parties and lead political wings themselves. Their aspirations and political ambitions have grown. Both Uddhav and Raj dream of becoming chief ministers. Both have also developed definitive styles of functioning.
Sources say that Uddhav’s wife Rashmi and Raj’s wife Sharmila are extremely ambitious for their husbands, and were not friendly when their husbands were close. Now, Rashmi and Sharmila play a dominant role in the lives of their husbands, and have also started making their way into the political space.
In the face of such ambition, it will not be an easy task for the two to get back together. And if they do, the problems they faced prior to their break
up will come back to haunt them. Then it was about ambition, and in the future too it will be about ambition. There may never be an amicable solution to their mutual problems, given their past friction.
Raj has won yet another round. The ball is now in Uddhav’s court. He has to now step out of this new shadow cast by Raj.