Uddhav Thackeray Becomes Maharashtra CM: A Soft-Spoken Shiv Sena Leader Emerges From Shadows to Become Rightful Heir of Bal Thackeray's Legacy
File image of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray (Photo Credits: IANS)

In 2006, Raj Thackeray, who is considered the rightful of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray by many, quit the party over differences with cousin Uddhav Thackeray. Nearly 14 years after the break-up, Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is nowhere on the political horizon of Maharashtra, whereas Uddhav Thackeray has become the Chief Minister of the state. Before Uddhav, no member of the Thackeray family ever held a constitutional post since Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in 1966.

During the Shiv Sena’s peak in 1995, Raj has made his own identity as a fiery leader like his uncle, but Uddhav maintained a low profile and it resulted in obstacles when took over reins of the Shiv Sena in 2003. The soft-spoken photographer, however, has managed to overcome each challenge since then. The first hurdle was a revolt by then senior party leader Narayan Rane. Differences between Uddhav and Rane culminated in the expulsion of the latter from the Shiv Sena in 2005.

A year later, Raj left the Shiv Sena and formed his own party. Under Uddhav's leadership, the Shiv Sena saw two consecutive defeats in assembly elections in 2004 and 2009. While Raj's MNS was making gains in early elections, the Shiv Sena was losing its grip. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the Sena was reduced to 11 MPs and could not win even a single seat in its bastion Mumbai. After the 2009 assembly polls, the Uddhav-led party could not even stake a claim for the leader of the opposition post.

While political observers were predicting an end for the Shiv Sena, Uddhav has his own plans. He kept his focus on cadre-building in areas where the Shiv Sena had lost its hold following Rane's exit and Raj's brief emergence. His first success came in 2012 when the Shiv Sena kept its hold over cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Uddhav’s efforts paid off in the 2014 Lok Sabha election when his party won seats even from Konkan where Rane had caused harm to the Shiv Sena.

Prior to the 2014 assembly elections, Uddhav drove a hard bargain with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over seat-sharing. The talks failed and the 25-year-old alliance of the Shiv Sena-BJP fell apart. Both parties contested polls separately. The Shiv Sena bagged 63 seats and Uddhav was in a position to play hard-ball with the BJP which had failed to touch majority mark on its own. Raj's MNS was also trounced.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar's unconditional support to the BJP for government formation killed Uddhav's plan. After occupying the opposition benches for three months, the Shiv Sena realigned with the BJP as Uddhav has gauged the political weather in favour of Narendra Modi. However, Shiv Sena became the biggest critic of the government for the next four years. This was an indication was Uddhav was not ready to play the role of a junior in the wake of the rise of Modi-Shah duo.

While the Shiv Sena contested the 2019 assembly elections in an alliance with the BJP, Uddhav was waiting for an opportunity to teach the saffron a lesson. Once it was clear that BJP did not have a majority on its own, he went incommunicado. The Shiv Sena did not hold a single meeting with the BJP and began backchannel talks with the NCP and Congress. Uddhav deployed his trusted aide Sanjay Raut to carry out negotiation which now has yielded desirable results.