As the Shiv Sena faces perhaps its worst crisis since its inception with a rebellion by the majority of legislators, Maharashtra minister and the party’s youth wing leader Aaditya Thackeray is spearheading a counterattack. The tone and tenor of the Thackeray family scion, usually known as the Sena’s new suave face, has changed in the last few days. When Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealed to rebel legislators who are camping in Guwahati to return, their leader Eknath Shinde said while the Sena chief was seeking reconciliation, his son Aaditya had labelled them as dirt from a nullah.” With as many as 39 Sena MLAs deserting the Thackerays, 32yearold Aaditya has addressed party workers at multiple places, from Karjat in neighboring Raigad district to Sena strongholds of Byculla, Kalina, and Dadar in Mumbai.
The Yuva Sena led by Aaditya has also been at the forefront of protests against the rebel MLAs. On the night when the Thackerays left ‘Varsha,’ the official residence of the chief minister, and moved back to their personal residence `Matoshree’, they received a grand farewell all through the route. To pacify swelling crowds, Aaditya again emerged out of Matoshree and waved at party supporters while showing his fist. In his speeches, he has been calling the rebel MLAs traitors. “Dirt has gone from the party. Now we can do something good,” he said on Monday. When allegations (of the rebels) target his father, he is bound to spearhead the attack against the rebels and he is doing it, Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande told PTI.
Sena MLA Ravindra Waikar, known to be close to the Thackerays and who is still by their side, said there was anger against the rebels and Aaditya has been meeting party workers and rallying support. Sanjay Patil, a researcher with the Department of Civics and Politics in Mumbai, said Aaditya has been, in a way, leading the party for the last few months, as Uddhav Thackeray is plagued by health issues. The chief minister underwent spine surgery last November and was operated from home for several weeks.
Aaditya also plays a key role in decision-making within the party, Patil said. In 2019, Aaditya became only the second person from the Thackeray family to contest the polls. His aunt Shalini had contested an election on the ticket of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, led by his estranged uncle Raj Thackeray. After the Sena formed an unlikely alliance with Congress and NCP in 2019 after ditching the BJP, Aaditya Thackeray, a first-time MLA, was made a minister in his father’s cabinet and given charge of the Tourism, Environment, and Protocol departments. The recent aggression must be stemming from the do-or-die situation the party is facing now and also (it comes) at a time when attempts are being made to erase the identity of the party by people who have been close to his family, Patil said.
Since he became a minister, Aaditya has also faced criticism for moving around in Mumbai’s elite circles rather than connecting with the Sena’s mass base. Last month BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis called him a “Mercedes baby” who can not appreciate the struggle of the Karsevaks who took part in the agitation for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Thackeray had reportedly ridiculed Fadnavis over the latter’s claim that he was present when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. “These Mercedes babies, born with a golden spoon in the mouth, never had to do any struggle, nor did they see any struggle,” Fadnavis had hit back.
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