Mumbai, July 16: A dramatic and emotional reunion today between warring Thackeray cousins Raj and Uddhav that ended with them walking into Matoshree together to meet Balasaheb set off speculation of a possible political realignment that could be bad news for the ruling Congress-NCP alliance.
The family bonding came after Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray was admitted to Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital with chest pain this morning. Raj Thackeray cancelled a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) event in Alibaug, 108km away, and rushed back to Mumbai to meet him in hospital.
After the patient was discharged in the evening following angiography, Raj drove Uddhav and wife Rashmi home in his Mercedes. The cousins stood beside each other and smiled for the cameras at Matoshree’s steps before walking in.
Although Sena MP Sanjay Raut cautioned reporters against viewing the meeting through a political prism, the visible warmth between the cousins thrilled the two parties’ cadres, who have been pressing for a reunion of the Marathi manoos vote bank.
Raj had left the Sena in a huff and formed the MNS in March 2006 after party patriarch Balasaheb picked son Uddhav over the nephew as his successor. The move split the pro-Marathi vote, helping the Congress-NCP defeat the Sena-BJP in successive local, Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
The ripples of excitement from today’s development were felt even in faraway Delhi, though the BJP declined “premature” comment and preferred to “wait and watch” whether it stayed a one-off gesture or led to something more “politically tangible”.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari has been a staunch advocate of a political reunion of the Thackerays and repeatedly stated in public that it’s the “only way” the Sena-BJP can unseat the Congress-NCP.
In private, BJP leaders from Maharashtra who claim proximity to Balasaheb said the patriarch’s “fondest wish” was to reunite the estranged cousins in his lifetime. “The wish is part sentimental, part political,” a leader said.
As Raj and Uddhav fought bitterly during the Mumbai civic polls barely four months ago, Balasaheb had appealed to the nephew to end the differences.
This was virtually the cousins’ first meeting since November 2008 when Raj visited Matoshree to return some books to Balasaheb. They attended a family wedding in December 2011 but avoided each other.
Asked about a possible Sena-MNS merger, Raut said: “Don’t bring politics into this. These are blood relations. These are emotional bonds that will never wither away.”
The televised drama began around 9am when Uddhav was rushed to the hospital by Rashmi and son Aditya, chief of the Sena youth wing. Raj reached the hospital around 12.30pm, accompanied by wife Sharmila, mother Kunda and other family members.
Raj left after meeting Uddhav and discussing his treatment with the doctors, but returned around 5pm, sat a smiling Uddhav down next to him in his Merc, and drove him home. TV cameras captured the two chatting pleasantly in the car.
Sena supporter Satish Walunj, who had tried to initiate a public campaign urging Raj and Uddhav to unite in the interest of the Marathi manoos, appeared over the moon.
“The meeting shows that the emotional warmth and blood ties are intact,” he said, hoping “the bond will eventually bring the two brothers together one day”.
Sources said the Sena-BJP lost at least 70 seats in the 2009 Assembly polls because of the MNS, and three-cornered contests humbled heavyweights such as the BJP’s Kirit Somaiyya and Ram Naik in the Lok Sabha polls. But for Raj, they said, the Sena-BJP would have won a comfortable majority in this year’s Mumbai civic polls.
“In the end, it’s pressure from below that works,” a BJP source said, referring to the calls from Sena and MNS cadres for a merger.
“We hope better sense dawns on the leaders. Uddhav’s maturity and equanimity can balance Raj’s aggression in a “nice way.”