January 23 witnessed two events on the occasion of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s birth anniversary. One event was organised by the Shiv Sena, where Sena workers felicitated Uddhav Thackeray who became chief minister of Maharashtra about two months ago. The other event was organised by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), where party chief Raj Thackeray indicated that his party would be changing its political agenda by adopting Hindutva.

The irony cannot be missed: One brother is the chief minister of the state who’s running a three-party coalition, while his cousin and challenger to Thackeray’s legacy is now struggling for existence.

The power tussle between the two brothers — son and nephew of the Sena founder — is on since 2003 when Uddhav was appointed as working president of the Sena and as such, the political heir to late Balasaheb Thackeray. Uddhav’s elevation came as a surprise to the party cadre who looked at Raj as a natural heir to senior Thackeray.

With his elevation, Uddhav tried to give a moderate look to the Shiv Sena through his ‘Mee Mumbaikar’ campaign to reach out to non-Marathi voters in the city and state.

It was at the same time that Raj’s followers in the party resorted to violent agitation against candidates from north India appearing in the city for Railway Recruitment Board examination. It scuttled the ‘Mee Mumbaikar’ campaign.

The bitter tussle between the brothers led to Raj walking out of the Shiv Sena in 2006 to form his own party MNS. Raj not only continued with the anti-migrant agenda, in fact intensified it and attracted Sena’s voters. This was visible in 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections as the Sena- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance suffered defeats. In Assembly elections, Raj’s MNS won 13 seats and foiled the Sena-BJP alliance’s bid to wrest power from the Congress-NCP combine, which had been in power for a decade.

With emergence of Modi factor close to 2014, Raj lost his loyal voters to the BJP and suffered defeats in the Assembly election. Last year’s Assembly election was no different. Even though he appealed to the voters to make MNS a strong opposition party in the state, his party’ tally in the Assembly remained one. Struggling for political survival, he is now indicating his shift to Hindutva agenda.

Once again, his shift comes at a time when his cousin Uddhav is in the process of adopting a moderate agenda. He is heading a government propped by parties such as the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who believe in secular agenda.

According to Sena insiders, the party top brass is working on a plan to reach out to farmers and rural population to expand the party’s reach across Maharashtra.

Can Raj scuttle Uddhav’s plans again by adopting hardline Hindu agenda? Will he be able to attract traditional Sena voters again? Will Raj force Uddhav to drop his plans for a moderate look to his party as well as his plans to reach out to a larger audience across Maharashtra?

And will the three-party Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state face trouble if Uddhav decides to stick to the saffron agenda?

As things stand today, Uddhav has scored over his brother. He ensured that his party remained intact and also grabbed the chance to lead the state. His challenge now will be to run the government successfully and thwart any attempts to force him to change his plans for his party.

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