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Grandkids marry, power shift solemnised
- Bal Thackeray misses family events where pride of place goes to Raj

Mumbai, Dec. 2: If anyone doubts power weddings are as much about fissures as they are about unions, ask the Thackerays.

Not once, but twice. Because twice in a space of 48 hours, Raj Thackeray enacted a role that normally should have gone to his uncle Bal Thackeray.

Two Thackerays got married this week but Bal Thackeray, the octogenarian family patriarch, skipped both weddings. Instead, it was his estranged nephew Raj who enjoyed pride of place at one wedding and played the “unofficial host” at the other.

The emergence of Raj, 43, as the new “family elder” came some six years after he had left Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena in protest when his uncle chose son Uddhav to lead the party.

On Thursday, when Bal Thackeray’s eldest son Bindumadhav’s daughter Neha, 25, got married, it was Raj who gave the bride away. Bindumadhav had died in a car accident in 1996. “Raj organised the entire arrangements, including the hotel for the wedding,” said a Sena leader.

The wedding cards, too, had been sent out in his name.

A day before on Wednesday, too, Raj whose father Shrikant was Bal Thackeray’s younger brother was the unofficial host at the wedding of Jaydeep, son of Bal Thackeray’s second son Jaidev and his first wife.

Officially, grandfather Thackeray was indisposed and missed both weddings.

The venue of Neha’s marriage was 10 minutes from her grandfather’s home. Bal Thackeray sent a bouquet with a short note blessing her.

A leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which Raj floated after he parted ways with his uncle, said the decision to send out the invites in the name of Bal Thackeray’s nephew was Neha’s mother Madhavi’s.

“As the family patriarch, the right to send out invites was (so long) his. But it seems Raj is now the family elder for many who bear a grouse against Balasaheb,” a Sena leader said.

It’s ironical but the wedding is now dredging up memories of a troubled past the Thackerays would rather put behind them.

Neha and Madhavi were with Bindumadhav when their car collided with a tempo in April 1996. Bindumadhav, 42, died on the spot. Soon after, Madhavi packed her bags and left the Thackeray residence with Neha and son Nihar amid rumours that the death may not have been an accident.

Sena old-timers recount Bindumadhav’s alleged obsession with an actress that resulted in a bitter parting of ways between Bal Thackeray and Nana Patekar, a staunch Sena supporter till then. When approached a few years earlier, Patekar had refused to speak or even acknowledge that he had complained to the senior Thackeray, but Sena leaders still speak about the episode.

Raj was the only Thackeray to keep in touch with Bindumadhav’s family after his death. Raj also lent a helping hand when Nihar, the bride’s 23-year-old brother, had a brush with the law earlier this year.

A grateful Madhavi, who runs a successful cable network in Mumbai, decided to honour Raj by sending out Neha’s wedding cards in his name.

That Neha married Manan, son of an old friend of both Bindumadhav and Raj, has further cemented the family’s bond with the MNS leader, whose mother Kunda was the younger sister of Thackeray’s wife Meena.

If Neha got married at a hotel 10 minutes from her grandfather’s home, Jaydeep’s wedding was at Bandra’s MIG Cricket Club, about 500 yards from Thackeray’s residence, Matoshree.

“Unofficially, Raj was the host here as well, though the wedding invites did not go out in his name. But from welcoming guests to organising the venue to vetting the menu, he was involved in everything,” said an MNS source.

Bal Thackeray could not attend but his son Uddhav, 51, made a brief appearance, though he didn’t come face to face with Raj.

Jaydeep’s father Jaidev and Bal Thackeray fell out soon after Bindumadhav’s death when he and some of his friends were briefly held by police for extortion in the senior Thackeray’s name.

Later, Jaidev had allegedly rushed into Matoshree one evening, firing randomly into the air and complaining of favouritism before being overpowered by the cops on duty outside. Although Jaidev remained estranged from his father, his second wife Smita continued to be Thackeray’s favourite daughter-in-law.

Jaidev, who lives in a house near Matoshree, never forgave his father for backing Smita, while his first wife, Jaydeep’s mother, stayed away from the Thackeray household for not standing by her when her marriage broke down.

Raj, who was then locked in a political turf war with Smita within the Sena, had supported Jaydeep’s mother.

Yesterday, she repaid Raj by giving him the stature of a family elder from Jaydeep’s father’s side.

In June this year, Bal Thackeray tried to patch up with Jaidev and paid him a visit. The rapprochement between father and son was emotional, with Thackeray senior citing his age and health concerns, and assuring Jaidev that he was as much his child and legatee as Uddhav was.