The Shiv Sena vs Shiv Sena war, which Eknath Shinde started to "strengthen the party" as he claimed, is turning out to be a much bigger challenge than he could have imagined.
Be it staking claim to Bal Thackeray's legacy, ensuring crowds at the Dussehra rallies, or playing it smart with the new names and symbols - both factions are trying to win the perception game, even as the cadre stands the most divided in the party's history.
After both factions submitted their choices, the Election Commission (EC) allotted the Uddhav Thackeray faction a new name - 'Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray)' - and a fire-torch symbol. Meanwhile, the Shinde faction was allotted the name 'Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena' with the two swords and a shield symbol, an emblem associated with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj for centuries.
The larger message in the choices of names given to the EC was clear - while Shinde once again wanted to assert his claim to be the rightful heir of Bal Thackeray's ideology, Uddhav positioned himself as the true heir with Bal Thackeray as his middle name.
But, how significant a role will the new names and symbols play in identifying the true heir to the Sena throne?
There are several factors that will have to be considered to arrive at the answer to this question:
The Impact of the new names and symbols
The fierce perception politics being played by both factions
How division of the cadre is weakening both factions and who it is most likely to side by
Would the New Symbols Matter?
Speaking to The Quint, political analyst, author, and a Shiv Sena watcher Sujatha Anandan said that in the day age of social media, it's way to easy to publicise which faction has what symbol and name.
"I don’t think the symbols are going to make much of a difference particularly because it has been frozen. If the symbol had been awarded to Shinde, then there would’ve been room for confusion. But whenever parties have split in the past, social media did not exist. It’s not about the symbols, but about who the Shiv Sainiks are rooting for," Anandan said.
Speaking to The Quint anonymously, a senior journalist from Maharashtra and a political analyst resonated Anandan's views and said that it eventually will boil down to who the party workers and the voters perceive as Bal Thackeray's true heir, and that's precisely why the battle is so fierce to win the perception game.
"The Sena has had a number of symbols in the past. This bow and arrow symbol was allotted to them only in 1989. They had fought and won elections before that. A greater shock for them was the freezing of the name. The name was given by Prabodhankar Thackeray (Bal Thackeray's father). It is more of a sentimental blow, but it is a big blow," he said.
So, Who is Winning the Perception Game?
Remembering Bal Thackeray's 2012 address to the cadre, during which he asked them to "take care of Uddhav and Aditya" after his death, Anandan said it was that emotional appeal that led to the subsequent downfall of somebody like Raj Thackeray and his party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Anandan said that in 2009, people voted for Raj Thackeray as much as for Bal Thackeray, but once the message in 2012 went around, they stopped voting for Raj.
"Raj Thackeray is family, has the same name, looks like Bal Thackeray, speaks like Bal Thackeray, and practised politics like Bal Thackeray, but did not succeed. He wasn't lacking on the finances or the fandom. But if Raj Thackeray did not get any support on the grassroots, what does Shinde expect to get?" she said.
Saying that the politics in the state has never been so vicious, the above aforementioned political senior journalist asserted that the sympathies of the cadre are more with Uddhav Thackeray.
"Both Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray quit the Shiv Sena in 2005. There was some sympathy among the people for Rane and Raj. But for Shinde and his supporters, people don't have any sympathy. Joining hands with the BJP while calling them natural allies is fine, but they have completely surrendered to the BJP and its central leadership, which the people can see," the analyst said.
"Yes, scores of Sena supporters did not agree to the alliance with the Congress and the NCP. People did believe that despite Uddhav being the CM, the NCP was calling the shots. But that sentiment has totally been sidelined now and the focus has shifted to the 'betrayal' of Shinde with the help of the BJP," he added.
Division of Cadre is Weakening Both Factions
Speaking to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, a Shinde faction leader said that the situation on the ground for both factions is way more confusing than is being portrayed. The leader also said that the current split in the party cannot be compared to the previous ones, as Bal Thackeray was still alive then, and the cadre wasn't confused over who to side with.
"In some constituencies I am closely engaged with, you will see that the party office bearers are on our side but cadre is with Uddhav Thackeray. In some constituencies, it may be the other way around," the leader said, adding that "this is a very harmful situation for both sides and it may end up strengthening other parties."
Another Shinde camp MLA, who also did not wish to be named, told The Quint: "I can be dishonest with you and say that the cadre will choose us, but it is not that simple. There is a lot of emotional attachment with Balasaheb Thackeray's family and many genuinely see Uddhav Thackeray as his heir. But he is also seen as someone who got misled by his advisors and strayed away from the party's ideology. Both these factors do play on the minds of the supporters," the MLA said.
Sanjay Gawande, a former Shiv Sena MLA and an Uddhav loyalist said that while most focus is on the 40 MLAs who switched sides, there are 248 more constituencies where the situation on ground needs to be looked at equally closely.
"Be it office bearers or shakha pramukhs, every constituency has somebody who has occupied these party posts for several years consecutively, which means all the others in the race for these posts never got a chance. Now that the factions have been created, and those bearers have switched to Shinde's side, new positions opened up on Uddhav's side to be occupied. So, all those who never got opportunities to hold posts are now being elevated and being officially made office bearers by the Uddhav faction," Gawande said.
Gawande further said that there is no scope for the two factions to unite, as is being hoped by many, considering how splits in the Shiv Sena have panned out in the past.
The aforementioned Shinde faction MLA said that the upcoming Andheri bypoll will make the picture clearer.
"I never wanted the party to split. I went with what the majority of the party wanted. We hoped Uddhav Thackeray would also come on our side eventually and agree with this arrangement," the MLA said, resonating a sentiment that many in the Shinde faction are believed to have.
"It would be best for everyone if both sides set aside their egos and came together, otherwise we will all suffer," the MLA added.
The war between the two factions is fierce with so sign of reconciliation in the foreseeable future. Many on both sides feel that both the BJP and the NCP are responsible for "making the two Sena elephants fight and gaining advantage out of it."
Whether the 'Shiv Sena' will ever resurge is a matter of time and depends on the Election commission's assessment. But if 'Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray)' and 'Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena' are to survive, gaining support of the cadre is the most difficult challenge they need to overcome.