Heir apparent

Soft-spoken, serenely disposed and smiling always, the new face of the tiger, as reflected in the new chief executive of the Shiv Sena, might be a deviation from a three-decade-old image. But, there's more punch in his comely disposition and it should never be mistaken as a weakness, says Uddhav Thackeray. HUBERT VAZ profiles the uncrowned heir to the Thackeray throne

Three-and-a-half decades ago when a talented city cartoonist, Bal Thackeray, founded the Shiv Sena, his son Uddhav was a creatively-inclined toddler... Little did the man, who was to eventually be worshipped by millions of his followers in the state, know that here was his very own heir who would someday vow to take his party to all corners of the state. Armed by a new 'avatar' conferred on him at the recent party conclave at Mahabaleshwar, Uddhav has been elevated to that plain in the Sena which no Sena leader ever dreamt of assuming though they have each dedicated their entire life for the party. Even though Uddhav supersedes all the Sena stalwarts in his unparalleled climb in the party hierarchy, he still has his feet very much on the ground. And, this can be seen from the new approach he hopes to take in building the party further.

"I shall continue to walk in the footsteps of Balasaheb," he declared to the Sena rank and file immediately after his elevation was announced. However, even before sitting down to chalk out elaborate strategies, Uddhav already has bombastic plans which, he hopes, will take the party to newer heights and make it a household name all over the country. While the party is already doing pretty well in some states, including Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uddhav proposes to make waves from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in the next decade or so. An established wildlife photographer, Uddhav had never expressed interest in the political pursuits of his charismatic father but 'Kay Sera Sera...' it was to be so. And, as he said at the conclave "it would have been great if Maasaheb (his mother) had been around to witness this day..." Uddhav had been more lured by the call of the wild and has spent numerous days chasing beasts for prized photographs. His creative genes come from none other than the once celebrated cartoonist, Bal Thackeray who put his art on the back burner and let it be there till date.

A bright student of J.J. School of Art, Uddhav has carried his camera with him on countless wildlife trails, a passion which had begun as a school boy. He has clicked wild animals not only at the Byculla zoo but also at the Wobern Safari, London. He also accompanied Sena leaders on political campaigns but often drifted off for his own stints in nearby thickets. He has been to forests at Khanna (M.P.), Ranthambore (Rajasthan), Gir (Gujarat), Bharatpur (Rajasthan) and Ervikulam (Kerala).

As he slowly moved into politics about a decade ago, his creative art has somewhat suffered, but he has never decided to shelve it to embrace his political aspirations. His guts, which are best exhibited during his missions in forests, where often he cuts himself away from others accompanying him, now have another outlet. And, his patience, which is an inborn trait, also used to his advantage during his forest trails, is now considered a high point of his new role.

Now, after undergoing a coronation of sorts where he has been conveniently entrusted the mantle of the party in clear-cut terms, Uddhav stands to dispel all speculation about who will ultimately succeed the Sena chief. And the fact that his cousin Raj (who has often been said to be at loggerheads with him) himself proposed Uddhav's name for the chief executive's post, is a silencer for those in the media and the party who have been revelling in speculating over a long-standing tiff between the two cubs. Sensing this, Uddhav himself drew the attention of the party leaders and the press to this fact and asserted that his appointment as chief executive must not be misunderstood as a 'Rajyabhishek' (coronation).

The key issues on Uddhav's agenda for the party, which he proposes to tackle right away, include getting rid of Bangladeshis from Mumbai and formulating remedies to keep a tab on the alarming influx into the city, expanding the party base to other states, getting ready for the next assembly elections and furthering all plans of the senior Thackeray aimed at conserving the 'Hindutva' ideology.

In some of his recent public utterances as well as interviews to a section of the media, Uddhav has made it clear that his path would be no different from the one walked by Mr. Bal Thackeray. However, though the Sena chief still enjoys the undisputed status of party supremo, for all practical purposes, it will be Uddhav's plans which will see the light of day. And, he has best demonstrated his abilities by working out a winning strategy during the last municipal elections in the state.

Undeterred by assertions by the media that he would be a 'soft' leader, something alien to the Sena culture, Uddhav has sounded it loud and clear that he knows when to be a hardliner and when to adopt a tame approach. "I know fully well when to brandish the sword and when to venerate it. Let not my peaceful attitude be misunderstood as my weakness," he asserted to scribes who had presupposed him to be a passive frontliner in the militant Sena.

Whether the Sena cub would translate his plans and strategies into successful equations for the Sena will be best seen 18 months from now when Maharashtra is scheduled to go to polls. Whether the Sena continues its political alliance with the BJP or decides to go it alone, whether the people of the state find promise in his new leadership or continue their divided support will be the deciding factor which would ultimately see an official coronation.