Few parties manage to stay relevant through a generational change. Shiv Sena is the exception. When it was formed, its founder Bal Thackeray saw it as forum to arouse the Maharashtrian-ness of those who lived in the state, making the Mangalorean, the North Indian, the Tamil, Telugu, and the Malayali the ‘other’.
The Communists and the Congress were also targets of Marmik, a cartoon magazine Thackeray founded that poked fun at the outsiders and the meek Maharashtrians. It also gave an ideological cover for breaking the Communist-dominated trade unions in and around Mumbai's textile mills. But he soon found that the ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’ slogan had limited appeal outside Mumbai where non-Maharashtrians were seen as performing an economic service and not necessarily as a threat. A change of track followed with Sena supporters becoming the vanguard of the Hindu movement, speeding ahead of the BJP.
Later, owing to the efforts of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, an agreement was reached between the BJP and the Shiv Sena in 1989 with Bal Thackeray laying down the law; until the Sena's top leadership changed and Uddhav Thackeray took over.
The split in the Sena that followed Bal Thackeray's death was, in hindsight, a politically minor event. But it also meant that Uddhav now had the responsibility of steering the Sena.
The first attempt at assertion came ahead of the 2014 Assembly elections when Sena and BJP contested separately. They did, however, contest the Lok Sabha elections in alliance and when the BJP seemed to hum and haw about a ministership for the Sena representative in 2014 in the Cabinet, the party decided to ask its nominee, Anil Desai, to return from the airport.
This marked the start of incessant scrapping and tangling between the parties. In this way, the Sena recast itself again — as a party in power; but also the bitterest critic of the BJP. It also began articulating farmer issues, dispelling the notion that it was an urban centric party.
Now its time for Aaditya Thackeray, the third generation. He has been given charge of the Yuva Sena and is tussling with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP's youth wing. They are in a race for the same space — control of the students’ union. In 2017, Aaditya began his activities in a space he was comfortable with: the Mumbai University Senate, the watchdog body of Mumbai University. It is empowered to pass the university's budget. The university had not had a Senate after elections in 2015 were delayed. That left all decision-making powers with the vice-chancellor, a situation that Aaditya challenged.
In 2017, the Sena won all 10 seats on the Senate, defeating the ABVP. This was the coming of age of the Sena in universities, hitherto a stranglehold of the ABVP. The younger Thackeray led a successful campaign to get the university to withdraw Rohinton Mistry's book, Such a Long Journey, and castigated education minister Vinod Tawde roundly for not acting to declare the results of Mumbai University examinations in time, even asking him to resign. The BJP conceded that Thackeray might have had a point, by not renominating Tawde in the assembly elections.