In June this year, on Shiv Sena’s 53th foundation day, now caretaker chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told the gathering, “He (Uddhav Thackeray) is like my elder brother.”
Interestingly, Mr Fadnavis became the first non-Sena leader to address the annual event, clearly underlining the excellent camaraderie between him and the Sena chief. It seemed like both had buried their differences for good and were destined for another five-year rule in Maharashtra after the Vidhan Sabha polls. However, much has changed since then.
Bitterness has now replaced compassion, while trust has given way to mistrust. Both leaders have launched such a scathing attack against each other that the door for reconciliation now looks closed forever. The vitriolic language has only suggested that the malice is much deeper, perhaps beyond repair.
The breakdown of ties between Mr Thackeray and Mr Fadnavis is surprising, given their match always looked as one made in political heaven.
Five years ago, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sena contested Assembly polls separately, it was Mr Fadnavis, who persuaded the central leadership to join hands with the Sena after the elections.
Even as the Sena continued to attack the BJP government for five years, at the Centre and in Maharashtra, Mr Fadnavis maintained cordial relations with the Sena chief. In fact, it was Mr Fadnavis, who had pursuaded the BJP to contest both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls in alliance with the Sena. So, what caused the rift between these two leaders?
According to Sena sources, Mr Thackeray was extremely hurt after Mr Fadnavis squarely denied that the BJP had made any promise to Sena about sharing the chief minister’s post for two and a half years.
“I did not expect this type of betrayal from him. He is a liar,” Mr Thackeray vented out his ire at him.
He also claimed that while announcing the alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Mr Fadnavis had said that both parties would equally share responsibilities after the Assembly polls.
According to political observers, ever since the BJP-Sena alliance swept the Lok Sabha polls this year, Mr Thackeray had been dropping enough hints about his twin desire — of holding the chief minister’s post for two and a half years and equal share in the government.
But, Mr Fadnavis and the BJP leadership took him lightly, believing that he would eventually fall in line, like in 2014, when the Sena had reluctantly decided to play second fiddle to the BJP. Moreover, instead of coming clear on the issue, Mr Fadnavis also kept soft-pedalling it. The stubbornness of the Sena chief, who is hitherto seen as always compromising, has caught the caretaker chief minister completely off guard.
With the BJP announcing that it would not be forming the government due to lack of numbers, the onus is on Mr Thackeray to stake claim. He would need the support of the NCP and the Congress to realise his dream of installing a Sena chief minister in the state.
In lieu of support, both parties have asked the Sena chief to snap ties with the BJP. If he does so, the state will see Mr Thackeray and Mr Fadnavis, who were once friends, standing against each other.