Most Shiv Sena ministers in Maharashtra have three photographs adorning their office walls: of late party patriarch Bal Thackeray, his son and party president Uddhav Thackeray, and the latter’s 26-year-old son Aaditya.
The photographs underline the growing importance of the youngest Thackeray within the party, going solo in next month’s crucial Mumbai civic body polls despite being a partner of the BJP in the state’s ruling coalition. As Uddhav hits a belligerent note, coming down heavily on the BJP and challenging his alliance partner, Aaditya is comparatively quiter, but firmly in the limelight.
The arts and law graduate is one of the party’s star campaigner for the elections. As top leaders say, he will actively feature in the Sena’s campaign with special focus on social media. The party has planned an “I trust Aaditya’ tagline along with “I trust Uddhav Saheb” and “I trust Shiv Sena’.
Arvind Sawant, a Shiv Sena MP from south Mumbai, underscored Aaditya’s growing stature. “Aaditya performs an important role within the Shiv Sena. Today’s youth is very dynamic. Aaditya’s ideas appeal to the youngsters and help the Shiv Sena move with the changing times, and attract young voters,” he explained.
Within Matoshree – the Thackerays’ home in Bandra – Aaditya is a voice that everyone listens to. He is part of the Sena’s core leadership team, that includes besides his father, other trusted leaders such as state industries minister Subhash Desai, MP Anil Desai and party mouthpiece Saamana editor Sanjay Raut.
With Uddhav in mid-fifties and not entirely in the pink of health, Shiv Sainiks say Aaditya is poised for a bigger role. “It is only natural that Aaditya Thackeray grows to be the next leader of the party. He is already the head of our youth wing and the party’s youth face. He is bringing new ideas to the table that are in sync with the changing times. His leadership is a natural process and a matter of time,” said a party leader.
Ever since Bal Thackeray handed him over a symbolic sword at the party’s annual Dussehra rally in 2010, Aaditya’s clout has risen phenomenally. His place is mostly next to that of his father at rallies with even party ministers taking the back seat.
His growing influence was on show when he compelled Sainiks to ditch their anti-Valentine Day agitation some years ago. Suave and sophisticated, commentators say the younger Thackeray is seeking to sync the party with changing times. He was instrumental in forcing the Mumbai University to drop Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Such a long journey’ from the syllabus for its alleged anti-Sena references. Though it earned him media scorn, Sainiks appreciated Aaditya.
His anointment opens up the Sena to renewed charges of pursuing dynastic politics. Bal Thackeray was a strong critic of Congress’ Gandhi family dynasty. But now that their own party has its own dynasty, Shiv Sainiks say Aaditya is a presentable face that is just perfect for a party seeking to repackage itself.
“He brings new ways to connect with voters,” points out a party functionary. For example, when the Shiv Sena released its manifesto last week, the event was broadcast live on Facebook. “It was his idea,” said the party official, referring to Aaditya, who also promotes football and is pushing for opening up the city’s nightlife.