‘Secular’ Sena: Aaditya Giving Shiv Sena a Progressive Makeover?

Here are six points that signify the Shiv Sena is getting a makeover since the entry of Aaditya Thackeray.

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From the striking saffron robes of Bal Thackeray to the chic jeans and shirts of Aaditya Thackeray, from Balasaheb ruling from his iconic singhaasan to Aaditya donning a 'gamcha', from attacks on Valentine's Day celebrations during Balasaheb's times to Aaditya reviving Mumbai's night life, the Shiv Sena seems to be undergoing an 'image makeover'.

You might have seen Aaditya Thackeray a lot in the news lately.

And why not? The Maharashtra elections are around the corner and the Shiv Sena is still working out an alliance with the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP in the state. But if Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut is to be believed, the party is projecting Aaditya as its 'CM candidate'.

What is it about the 29-year-old Thackeray scion that has not only made the party project him as the CM face, but also simultaneously, and knowingly or unknowingly, give a makeover to the party.

From Guidance to Governance

Balasaheb or Uddhav never contested a single election or held a cabinet berth in the state. Even when the party was in power between 1995 to 1999, Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane were given the chief minister's chair.

This time, however, Aaditya announced that he will in fact be contesting elections from Mumbai's Worli seat. And not just that, the party is projecting him as the CM face. Whether or not it happens, it is clear that the Thackerays have changed their mind about occupying public office.

Wild Tiger to a Tamed Cub

Aggression has always been the USP of the Shiv Sena. Balasaheb never shied away from openly making explosive statements.

The man made national headlines almost every other day. When Uddhav Thackeray took over the reins, people immediately noticed the fall in aggression and found Balasaheb's aggressive DNA more in Raj than in Uddhav.

And now, with Aaditya, the Shiv Sena sees a leader who has a calm demeanour, is a calculated campaigner and an inclusive ideologue, the boxes that any Shiv Sena leader has hardly ever ticked before.

Embracing Western Culture

The Balasaheb-led Shiv Sena always opposed 'pashchatya sanskruti' or 'Western culture' and they made it evident by openly attacking people celebrating days like Valentine's Day. But these issues were given minimal importance during Uddhav's tenure.

In 2015, Aaditya sent a proposal to CM Fadnavis to revive Mumbai’s ‘night life’. He proposed discarding the 1:30 am deadline put by the government for pubs and restaurants and the embargo was revoked soon after.

Aaditya told the media that it was about “promoting tourism”, as much as it was about “protecting youth culture.”

Social Media for Social Change

While the internet wasn't a thing in Balasaheb's days, Uddhav Thackeray, despite most leaders of his stature being big on social media, stayed away from it.

Aaditya, however, seems to be steering an entire election campaign on social media. And not just in English, he has also been tweeting in Hindi and Marathi to reach out to more people.

The BMC recently going big on Twitter is believed to be an initiative actively pushed for by Aaditya. The handle, now, has over 125k followers, responding to people even in real-time, as was seen during the recent Mumbai monsoon.

Change in Wardrobe, a Change in Outlook Too?

Saffron robe, rudraksh malas, laal tilak and kaala chashma, and not to forget, a tiger cutout in the background – these weren't mere clothes or props but Balasaheb's signature of 'Marathi manoos' and Hindutva agenda that reflected his beliefs as aggressively as his speeches did.

While Uddhav stuck to kurtas, Aaditya is mostly seen donning jeans and shirts. But that’s not it. Recently, Aaditya was seen donning a north-Indian style ‘gamcha’ at a rally.

With Aaditya's gamcha act, Shiv Sena, which was traditionally seen as anti-north Indian or 'anti-outsiders' as they call it, now seems to be more open to them. Moreover, when once asked by a Quint reporter why he doesn't don kurtas, Aaditya said he doesn't like them because they don't help him establish “a connect with the people.”

The Yuva Sainik

Shiv Sena offcially kicked off its youth wing 'Yuva Sena' in 2010, making a mere 20-year-old Aaditya its chief. Initiatives like free BEST bus passes for school children and open gyms across Mumbai got him into the spotlight.

Now here’s the difference between the elevation of his father Uddhav and him within the party – while Uddhav was appointed Sena’s working president in 2003 without having held any position in the party or active politics before, Aaditya was given eight years to prove his mettle after becoming the Yuva chief before being elevated to the post of Sena leader in 2018.

Bal Thackeray to Bal Aditya, is the change in Shiv Sena a deliberate attempt of trying to be relevant with changing times? Or is it a carefully crafted campaign to help Aaditya resonate with the young, urban voters? Is it the Sena's effort to appear more futuristic or is it setting the stage for Aaditya both within the party and among the voters?

Aaditya, in fact, in an interview said, and I quote, "These are changing times. My grandfather’s generations, my father’s generation, my generation, all have different needs. We are keeping our core values the same, but with time, priorities change."

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