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In 2 yrs, Aaditya Thackeray brought glamour to low-key departments, but remains in dad’s shadow

The Print logo The Print 05-12-2021 Manasi Phadke
© Provided by The Print

Mumbai: In December 2019, Shiv Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray had shared a photograph on social media a week after it was taken, on the day his father Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as chief minister of Maharashtra, a moment he still describes as “surreal”. 

In the photograph, a smiling CM Thackeray, dressed in a saffron kurta, is seen gazing at his wife Rashmi, holding her henna-adorned hand. Aaditya, wearing a golden kurta, is seen smiling in the background, standing in his father’s shadow. 

Two years have passed since Uddhav became CM, and Aaditya, the first member of the Thackeray clan to enter electoral politics, a cabinet minister in the state. But political observers say the young Thackeray is still the same man in that photograph an important fixture in the government, but politically, overshadowed by the legacy of the family. 

Throughout the tenure of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), Aaditya, now 31, has stayed away from various controversies that have inflicted severe blows to the three-party government, with the exception of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, when the Opposition had alleged his involvement. He also stayed largely silent on the politics of the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress coalition, choosing instead to focus on his portfolios tourism, environment and protocol. 

While Aaditya has brought three low-profile departments to the limelight, he hasn’t gone out of his way to strengthen his image as a mass political leader, political observers told ThePrint.

“Aaditya Thackeray chose departments that weren’t politically too attractive or high profile. He picked portfolios that needed policy interventions and has shown that these departments are also important. Aaditya Thackeray has brought a lot of new policies and ideas, especially in the tourism sector, which was hit badly during the pandemic,” Shiv Sena leader Sachin Ahir said.

“He has not associated with any political issues over the past two years. It was his conscious decision to do that and focus on his departments instead. If someone asks him for his opinion on the various controversies surrounding the government, he very cautiously refuses to comment,” Ahir added.

Also Read: Aaditya Thackeray meets Mamata Banerjee, talks of taking ‘strong bond’ forward

Focus on environment 

In the early days of the MVA government, Aaditya attended several meetings, reviews and field visits with his father the chief minister, even those that did not pertain to his departments. For instance, he accompanied Uddhav to Raigad to take stock after the district was ravaged by Cyclone Nisarga, attended meetings for the state government’s ‘Mission Begin Again’ (an extended lockdown and phase-wise relaxations last year). He even remained present at pandemic review meetings in districts under the jurisdiction of other ministers. Sources from the Congress and NCP had in July 2020 told ThePrint that they had reservations about his role in the government. 

However, over the past several months, members of the Shiv Sena say Aaditya has chosen to keep his head down, and focus on building himself as a “brand” in the environment and urban infrastructure space. 

“For almost every project or sector, Aaditya has a back-up team of government officials from the department as well as private sector experts who he trusts. He also follows the international media keenly to see what can be adopted back home,” a Sena leader close to the young Thackeray told ThePrint, on the condition of anonymity.

A couple of bold decisions and policies scrapping the Metro car shed in the ecologically sensitive Aarey Colony, pushing for withdrawal of cases registered against those protesting the car shed, launching the ambitious Electric Vehicle policy, launching the Majhi Vasundhara Abhiyaan, which put the onus of conservation and climate change mitigation on local bodies — helped Aaditya Thackeray carve a niche for himself as he put the onus of conservation and climate change mitigation on local bodies. 

The environment minister also got his government to constitute a ‘State Council for Climate Change’ to prepare an action plan to tackle the climate change crisis in Maharashtra. The high-powered council, which was constituted last month, is directly under the leadership of CM Thackeray, with Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, 11 other cabinet ministers, the state chief secretary and the principal secretary, environment, as its members. 

Last month, Aaditya had represented Maharashtra at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, held in Glasgow last month, avidly networking with ministers, governors and mayors from different countries and cities. For instance, he spoke about Maharashtra’s net-zero ambitions as part of a panel that included First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, met Oslo Vice Mayor Sirin Stav regarding a partnership with that city to create climate budgets for cities of Maharashtra, as well as Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, among others. 

He also received an award on behalf of the Maharashtra government for the state’s ‘Inspiring Regional Leadership’ in the Under2 Coalition for Climate Action at the COP26 summit. 

Sympathy’ from the upper crust

Other than the environment, Aaditya has also focused keenly on Mumbai infrastructure and works of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is scheduled to go to polls in 2022. 

Sources in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) say that Aaditya, who is also the minister-in-charge for Mumbai’s suburbs, takes weekly or bi-weekly review meetings and conducts regular field visits to take stock of transport infrastructure projects in the city. 

Similarly, sources close to Aaditya say he is also on top of the work done by the BMC, which the Shiv Sena heads, conducting regular reviews with its Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, particularly on the civic body’s Covid vaccination drive, rules and regulations amid the pandemic, and infrastructure projects such as the coastal road. 

The first-time MLA has also made the protocol portfolio, which a majority of the CMs in the past have preferred to keep with themselves, appear glamorous through regular meetings with consul generals, ambassadors and other diplomats. As protocol minister, Aaditya has met former UK prime minister Tony Blair, former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, and even attended a gathering of the British High Commission aboard a yacht. 

Bureaucrats from the tourism department say their department has been a regular part of the state’s weekly cabinet meetings, as against once in a few months, ever since the young Thackeray took over. Other than passing several new policies, under Aaditya’s leadership, the state government also accorded industry status to the hospitality sector. 

“The kind of issues Aaditya Thackeray has taken up generally appeal to intellectuals or influential members of civil society. So, there is a sympathy towards him among the upper crust,” political commentator Pratap Asbe told ThePrint.

Asbe added that Aaditya is known to be on very cordial terms with almost all MVA ministers. “But, there’s still the impression that he is under the shadow of his father. His connect with the common man has not improved much over the past two years,” he said.

Away from controversies 

The only controversy surrounding the MVA government that Aaditya Thackeray assertively commented on was the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. Here too, his comment came after members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called Rajput’s death a murder and hinted at Aaditya’s involvement in it. 

In a statement, Aaditya slammed the allegations as “dirty politics” emerging from “political despair”.

Otherwise, the young leader has stayed silent on most other major issues, right from dismissed police officer Sachin Waze’s arrest, former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh’s allegations of extortion against then-state home minister Anil Deshmukh, Deshmukh’s subsequent resignation, former Shiv Sena minister Sanjay Rathod being accused of involvement in a TikTok star’s death, and actor Kangana Ranaut’s spat with his party members. 

BJP leaders as well as Union Minister Narayan Rane’s sons Nitesh and Nilesh have often targeted Aaditya Thackeray, referring to him as a “baby penguin” after the BMC built a penguin enclosure, said to be a brainchild of Aaditya, in Mumbai’s Byculla Zoo. Aaditya has not retorted on both counts.

We say baby penguin – Shiv sainiks start trolling!

We say Yuva leader – Anil Parab says Aditya T has nothing to do with it!

No body even took his name yet!!!

Perfect example of : आ बेल मुझे मार !!!

😅😅😅

— nitesh rane (@NiteshNRane) August 4, 2020

“It seems as if he doesn’t want to fight on the front foot. In a way, he is one step beyond what Uddhav Thackeray was when he first entered politics. He was known to be reticent and stayed away from controversial and aggressive statements, unlike his cousin Raj Thackeray,” political commentator Hemant Desai said.

“But, if he (Aaditya) really wants to make a mark in politics, he needs to come forward and take stands even on controversial issues, take efforts to coordinate between MVA parties on political issues, speak more with the media. Conferences, consulates, celebrities, he is still caught up with all this, but he won’t grow as a politician if he doesn’t step out of it and into the masses,” added Desai.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Sushant Rajput, Aryan Khan, Param Bir Singh — 2 yrs of MVA govt dominated by Centre-state rows

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