Tracking the saffron tiger

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on February 17, 2021

New meanings: Under Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena is trying to counter BJP’s Hindutva with another version of the same ideology   -  PTI

A new book maps Uddhav Thackeray’s rise in family and politics, and his efforts to curate a different brand of Hindutva

* Balasaheb Thackeray in one of his interviews said that he had told Narendra Modi — “I am the tiger, you are the lion”

* Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to break away from the 30-year-old alliance with the BJP in Maharashtra was not an impromptu one

* Uddhav is trying to tread the path of his grandfather but is not able to shed his father’s shadow


It has not been an easy journey for Uddhav Thackeray from a quiet corner by the wings of Maharashtra’s political arena to centre stage. Likewise, it was not easy for me as a writer to collect data and analyse the politics of the chief minister and son of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. I have connected the dots with the help of content and attempted to comprehend his statements and political decisions.

To understand Uddhav, we need to go back to 2002. Realising that Narendra Modi would be the new poster boy of hardcore Hindutva after 2002, Balasaheb in one of his interviews said he had told Modi — “I am the tiger, you are the lion”. Balasaheb was hoping that the “lion” would not enter his territory and allow the Shiv Sena to occupy Maharashtra’s saffron space in politics.

In 2008 when Balasaheb was asked by Saamana editor Sanjay Raut about Modi being projected in Maharashtra as the leader of Hindus, he replied that the people of the state were shrewd enough to not accept any “wakde-tikde” (strange) person.

At that point, the lion and the tiger were weighing each other up, but the lion, as later events proved, was not going to cede control of the saffron kingdom. And when the BJP tried to dethrone the Shiv Sena and Balasaheb from the saffron space in Maharashtra, Balasaheb became restless. That was the beginning of the end of the partnership.

Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to break the 30-year-old alliance with the BJP in Maharashtra and form a government with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 2019 was not an impromptu one. It was the culmination of a tug-of-war between the Modi-led BJP and Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena to lead and control Hindutva politics in Maharashtra. With its newly-gained strength the BJP was overshadowing its partners across India and the Shiv Sena was not an exception.

After Balasaheb’s death in 2012, it was Uddhav who was trying to protect the saffron terrain in the state, but the massive mandate that Modi won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections left him with few options. Many in political circles were surprised with his decision to break off with the BJP and join the opposition camp when Modi and his party were going strong. But there are many plots and subplots to the drama that unfolded in Maharashtra’s politics.

Keeping Uddhav at the centre of the political upheaval that followed the 2019 Assembly polls in Maharashtra, I have tried to analyse his and the Shiv Sena’s journey from saffron to a secular trajectory. What is happening in the state is interesting because it is from here that Hindutva politics in its various shades took root and spread across the country. Since 1925 the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has preached and advocated a Hindutva ideology that defined Hindutva within a Vedic framework. But at the same time Balasaheb’s father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray strongly advocated a reformist version of Hindutva by pitting it against the Vedic Hindutva which he called Brahmanical Hindutva. Uddhav is trying to tread the path of his grandfather but is not able to shed his father’s shadow.

In the Trail of the Tiger, I have tried to understand these Hindutva narratives and its politics. With a natural progression path in the Hindutva politics closed, Uddhav was forced to take another one. But even when his father was going strong, Uddhav was trying to introduce reforms in the conservative framework of the party and dilute hardcore communal politics by opening doors to other communities including neo-Buddhists and Muslims.

Trail of the Tiger — Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray — A Journey / Radheshyam Jadhav / Bloomsbury / Non-fiction / ₹599


Journalists are content creators who record everyday history. They have their own research methodologies to ideate the story, collect data and make sense out of it. Though academia is reluctant to accept journalists and their writings in the research arena, the content created by journalists is a rich data source for any researcher. The Trail of the Tiger tracks Uddhav’s journey based on media content and the experiences of the content creators. As a journalist, I felt it necessary to narrate the story based on authentic content instead of relying on hearsay.

Uddhav as a son, husband, father, brother, brother-in-law, cousin and Shiv Sena leader has been wearing different hats. At every step he had to struggle to prove his worth. Not surprisingly he called himself “Arjuna” in the battlefield. The Mahabharata within the family and the party over power left Balasaheb helpless during his sunset years.

During his last few years, Balasaheb became something of a loner. He would talk of seeing a king cobra in his dreams and tried to decode what it meant. He had always claimed to have powers of “intuition” but this was a very private aspect of his life. He talked of “waves” or “vibration” that foretold the future. He claimed to have predicted the futures of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and also the fate of the government headed by the then Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. But, he admitted, he could not tell his own future.

Uddhav has not claimed any intuitive power like his father, but he is pitching a strong, alternative Hindutva politics to challenge the BJP. He is defining secularisation as narrowing the space of religion to personal lives and Hindutva as an inclusive ideology. There is no other party in India, as of now, which is countering the BJP’s Hindutva with another version of the same ideology. And, surprisingly, the Congress has directly supported the Sena and its Hindutva by joining the Uddhav-led government.

The book unpacks news stories and tries to understand their intertextuality against the ongoing political developments. It looks at Uddhav’s rise in the family and politics, the different versions of Hindutva and its politics, and the new subnational Hindutva narrative ushered in by the rise of Prime Minister Modi.


Radheshyam Jadhav is deputy editor, ‘The Hindu BusinessLine’, and his book ‘Trail of the Tiger — Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray’ has been published by Bloomsbury

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Published on February 17, 2021
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