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Defiant daughter-in-law adds to Sena woes
(From top) Smita, Bal Thackeray and Rahul Thackeray

Mumbai/New Delhi, Nov. 28: The ground slipping beneath his feet with the rise of a rebel nephew, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray is now faced with a renegade daughter-in-law.

The party, whose support base has been eroded by the aggressive stand of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), has gone into a tizzy after Thackeray bahu Smita, 48, announced her intention to join the Congress.

There’s still nothing official about it, but sources said the Congress leadership had made up its mind to induct Smita, who was married to Balasaheb’s son Jaidev but is now divorced, since her entry had the approval of senior state leaders.

Smita has been promised Rajya Sabha nomination in July 2010, when the Maharashtra members of the Upper House are due to retire, the sources said.

But the Congress will not keep Smita waiting that long to join the party since it wants to use her clout among Sena supporters to neutralise the MNS. She has already spoken against the philosophy of the Sena and praised Sonia Gandhi, two unwritten conditions for joining the Congress.

Smita’s son Rahul said today his mother was “disenchanted with Sena politics”. But he kept a window ajar by announcing that “all options are open. It cannot be said that she has taken any final decision to join the Congress.”

The sources said that among those who worked on the deal was Narayan Rane, the former chief minister who left the Sena in 2005 after a bitter fallout with Balasaheb.

“Smita and Rane had always been very close. Now, when Smita has been sidelined in the family, he plays the part of Manthara (Kaikeyi’s adviser in the Ramayan) to the hilt,” said a bitter Sena leader.

Even after her divorce with Jaidev in 2004, Smita had continued to live in the Thackeray family home, Matoshree, underlining what many said was her special bond with her father-in-law.

“Smita never made any bones about her political ambitions and ran a parallel government from Matoshree during the Sena-BJP regime. From bureaucrats to ministers, all were at her beck and call,” said a Sena leader.

After the political advent of Balasaheb’s son Uddhav, she was gradually sidelined, so much so that in 2008, Smita was denied a Rajya Sabha berth promised to her by Balasaheb.

“Smita has been smarting since then. She even tried to join Raj Thackeray’s party after he and Uddhav had a public fallout. But that did not work. Now with Rane’s help she plans to strike back,” said a Bollywood actor’s wife close to Smita. Rane, who had issues with Uddhav, is now the state’s revenue minister.

Smita, a former passport office receptionist who went on to run a beauty parlour, came close to the Thackerays through Jaidev’s first wife.

“Jaidev’s first wife was a regular at her parlour and they became friends. Smita became a regular at Matoshree – gradually winning Balasaheb’s affection and becoming romantically involved with Jaidev. Jaidev divorced his first wife and married Smita, and they had two children,” the Sena source said.

Later, her growing ambitions and lifestyle led to marital discord and the two divorced. Jaidev has married since and accuses Smita of using the Thackeray name for political gain.

After being denied a Rajya Sabha seat, Smita moved out of Matoshree and now lives in a house in Juhu. But she keeps visiting Balasaheb and continues to hold on to her private apartments on the first floor of the Thackeray home in Bandra East.

“To get her away from politics after Uddhav’s entry, Balasaheb had encouraged her interest in Bollywood and filmmaking,” the Sena source said.

Smita used to be a regular at every Bollywood party, produced films such as Haseena Maan Jayegi, and went on to become president of the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association.

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