The Passing of Balaseheb
The old order changeth, but will it yield to the new?
With due apologies to Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson for the title, but most political commentators agree that the passing away of Balasaheb Thackeray over the weekend is likely to be an event which will have far-reaching consequences for the politics of Maharashtra, as well as India. However, exactly what this would be is very difficult to tell, at least at this point in time.
Chairman Mao, whence asked in 1972 about the impact of the French Revolution, after nearly 200 years, had said “it was far too early to tell”. Of course myth-busters have since clarified that Mao was not talking about 1789 but the trouble in France in 1968 (read here), making it more believable in the process. In any case, it does bring out the fact it takes time to fully appreciate and feel the impact of significant events! I was amazed to see the media (paidmedia as it is more popularly known in “right-wing” circles), starting to preemptively speculate on the way forward for Uddhav and Raj, even while the cremation was still going on! Well, not that they have asked anyone for advice, but motives notwithstanding, India has always been known for “free advice galore”! So, not by invitation, I decided to join the gang of free advice givers also!
Enough has been written about the masses who attended, the discipline of the Sainiks, etc., so I will dispense with that aspect of this post. What I did want to say was that for a country, media and politics that don’t really respect its “mega-mass” leaders, it was really a humbling experience for a lot of people. The sheer magnitude of the response, maybe the first in the age of 24-hour Electronic news, the fear-mongers notwithstanding, will be remembered for a long time to come.
In terms of what is likely to happen going forward, I would like to posit a few points. Please bear in mind that I am no fortune-teller and also have no “inside” news, so the opinion given below can be taken as a mixture of predilection and prediction, with maybe just a little bit of hope thrown in!
The next few weeks are likely to be very low-key, as both the brothers would need time to recover from their genuine personal loss and for much private grieving. Raj being a more hands-on and shrewd politician (and I mean that positively), will emerge from his grief before Uddhav (who is known to be not only more emotional, but was also much more dependent on Balasaheb for his politics). The private grieving is also an activity which will be going on across the board in both the Shiv Sena and the MNS, although the cremation event (surprisingly with full state honours) would have been hugely cathartic for all the Sainiks.
In a few weeks time, all the leaders and followers in Shiv Sena primarily, but even MNS are going to start weighing the pros and cons about their future and where it lies. The driver for SS would be that although they see a better future in MNS, their supreme leader’s last wish was to support Uddhav and then Aditya. The driver for MNS would be that they would be carrying a guilty conscience that the splitting of SS hastened Balasaheb’s demise (which is a very genuine feeling within). There is an immense pressure from the Sainiks (on both sides) that SS and MNS should merge, in order to genuinely carry forward Balasaheb’s legacy and fulfil his last desire to see the Bhagwa fly over Mantralaya once again. However, there is absolutely no chance of this happening, since the leaders who surround both Uddhav and Raj would not want this to happen. The primary reason for this is that a lot of “relatively junior” SS leaders have moved into very senior positions in MNS. Both the organizations are structurally mirror images of each other, from the top, right down to the bottom, i.e. the Shakhas. Merging would require firing one person from either organization across all the levels, which is nearly impossible.
There are two other drivers, Uddhav’s health being a matter of serious concern, and the very obvious doubts in the minds of SS Sainiks that he does not have Balasaheb’s charisma or the ability to take the organization forward. Raj is also too pragmatic a politician and he also realizes that the political dividend of the sympathy for Balasaheb will first go to Uddhav and not him (which is probably why he was not on the hearse along with the rest of the family)!
I also feel that Uddhav is not really given credit for his political acumen, and his understated style makes it more difficult for his Sainiks to understand him. However, he also knows that a divided house between him and Raj is an open invitation to Congress-NCP once again.
There are few other political dynamics playing out in Maharashtra. Very powerful members of BJP have got a clear preference for Raj over Uddhav. Raj and Modi have got a hugely close relationship. The NCP is also going into a planning mode, for a post-Pawar scenario, and it is quite clear that Pawar will sacrifice Ajit Pawar for Supriya Sule. There is a large part of the NCP that is not only sick of the Congress but also realizes that they are in a sinking vessel. They feel that by splitting with Congress, they can wipe the corruption slate clean and start all over again! The post-Gujarat elections BJP will be much more dominated by Modi’s wishes, which will also have an impact on Maharashtra politics. The pompous Congress is very soon running out of friends in Maharashtra, especially after the “calming” influence of Vilasrao Deshmukh is gone.
SS and MNS will have to come together, but without merging!
I predict a “Maha-yuti” in Maharashtra consisting of SS-MNS-BJP-RPI and a rump NCP, which will sweep the next elections. I also predict the next Maharashtra Assembly elections will happen along with the next LS elections (as NCP will pull out). I think that both these elections will happen in the first half of 2013!
The inflection point for all of this change is going to be the Gujarat election results, which will be declared on 20th December 2012. Maybe the Mayans were right after all!
Well, this is my little attempt at crystal-ball gazing!