Raj-Uddhav Thackeray 'bonhomie' fuels political speculation



Mumbai: As Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray on Monday drove Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, activists of both parties here wondered whether he succeeded in driving right into the heart of his ailing, estranged cousin.

Covering a distance of two km, a concerned Raj drove a feeble-looking Uddhav from Lilavati Hospital in Bandra West, where Uddhav was admitted after he complained of chest pain, to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's residence in Bandra East - sparking off speculation whether the two cousins would go together a longer way, both in enhanced family relations and politics.

However, leaders from both sides are keeping their fingers crossed on the developments and are cautious about forecasting what direction Monday's family gesture could take in the coming months.

"It was a very warm gesture on Raj Saheb's part to come and visit Uddhavji at the hospital," a Shiv Sena leader said, but clammed shut when asked about the political significance of the meeting.

Ditto has been the reaction from Raj's party. While a leader said that it was a normal concern and courtesy that one would expect from family members during a medical emergency, it would be premature to resort to "any wild political speculation" at this juncture.

However, the relaxed attitude with which Raj, 45, received Uddhav, 51, in the waiting vehicle outside the hospital, their smiles and friendly gestures before the waiting supporters, was not lost on leaders and activists on both the sides.

Though Raj has not completely severed his relations with the Thackerays and has been meeting them occasionally after parting ways to form his own party six years ago, this is the first time in over four years that he met cousin Uddhav in full public glare.

Maharashtra cabinet minister Harshwardhan Patil of the Congress said it would be improper to make political speculations over the Raj-Uddhav meeting.

"In our culture, we forget all differences and go to help anybody who is not well. This is how we should see it," Patil said.

It was in 2004 that Bal Thackeray, 86, handed over the party's reins to his photographer son Uddhav, which apparently angered his cartoonist nephew Raj.

Though Raj did not make public his unhappiness at that time and continued to reluctantly work for the party, a couple of years later, he walked out of the Shiv Sena and 'Matoshri' - the residence of Bal Thackeray - to his own private residence in Shivaji Park, central Mumbai.

In 2006, Raj founded the MNS - indicating that the split between the two cousins was permanent.

Harping on virtually the same policies and principles on which the Shiv Sena was built, the MNS managed to inflict heavy damage on the former in elections in the state.

Party leaders said Raj's gesture Monday endeared him to one and all in the Shiv Sena and many in the MNS - comprising mostly the Sena rebels or discards - also heaved a sigh of relief at the easing of tension in the state's numero uno political family.

It remains to be seen whether the improved family relations also reflect on the two parties which are attempting to achieve similar goals, but from different platforms.

IANS