This is one question that has probably been on the minds of supporters and detractors alike, ever since Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray took ill and failed to turn up at the party's Dussehra rally this year: Who is the future of Shiv Sena?
In the video that was played at the rally, the visibly frail Shiv Sena chief had exhorted his followers to extend support to his son Uddhav and grandson Aditya, like they had done in his case. The message was clear: Bal Thackeray no more had a grip on the party's reins, and that had a lot to do with his steadily failing health.
With Thackeray's death, the question, naturally, is being asked a lot more. While Raj Thackeray and his uncle seemed to have shown signs of mending burnt bridges a few days ago, critics are already wondering if a weak leadership in the Shiv Sena will benefit the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Uddhav, who was seen crying profusely at the procession, cut a starkly different figure from Raj, who was still seen holding his own, organising a separate padytara in front of the truck carrying the body. The public image of Bal Thackeray - that of a man with steely determination, unflinching in the pursuit of his goals and far-from being emotive in public - seemed uncannily similar to that of Raj than Uddhav's. Political analysts are already placing the Sena's future in Raj's hand making occasional allowances for Uddhav's son Aditya, who is presently leading the students wing of the party.
An article on India Today notes:
The death of Bal Thackeray could, however, prove to be the last straw. This is because the Sena doesn't have any leader who can command the respect and adulation that Thackeray did. While Uddhav has been in charge of the Sena for more than a decade now, he has not been able to mobilise the masses like his father. This explains why Raj managed to eat into the Marathi votes, a traditional vote bank of the Sena, in the 2009 assembly elections. The Sena came a miserable fourth.
The article pointed to the fact that Shiv Sena had managed to stay afloat despite several setbacks, which included the loss of influential leaders Chhagan Bhujbal, Sanjay Nirupam and Narayan Rane to other parties, thanks to Bal Thackeray's leadership and the Sena supporters' implicit faith in their leader's vision.
The article also quotes a Shiv Sena leader as saying that it was Raj and not Uddhav who managed to measure up to Bal Thackeray in charisma.
An editorial in IANS and published on IBN Live observes how Uddhav has more than just a handful of issues to tackle. Given that he doesn't come close to his father when it comes to exhorting regionalistic sentiments with impassioned rhetoric, the Sena agenda stands the risk of an imminent hijack by the MNS.
Political analysts say Uddhav has his job well-cut after his father's demise. In the absence of Bal Thackeray's overwhelming personality, check the growth of its ally BJP, thwart attempts by the Congress-NCP to undermine Shiv Sena, and probably risk an understanding with the MNS to prevent further erosion of Sena vote banks.
However, some staunch followers of the Sena have placed their faith in 22-year-old Aditya who already seems to be showing signs of his grandfather's edge. Local vernacular newspapers noted how Aditya stunned supporters with his first ever public speech as the leader of the student's wing of the Sena.
While it is a little too premature to predict the future of the Shiv Sena, all eyes will be on Uddhav, Raj and the two parties in the coming days as the state heads towards elections in 2014, a crucial test for the political survival of both Thackerays.