The 51-year-old executive president of the Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray, underwent angioplasty at Mumbai's Lilavati Hospital today. His younger cousin Raj Thackeray was at the hospital with Uddhav throughout the procedure. Uddhav will stay in hospital till Sunday.
The politicians, once inseparable, were estranged for six years till earlier this week, when Uddhav was admitted to hospital with chest pains and then was diagnosed with three blockages in his heart. Raj was in Alibaug then and had rushed back to Mumbai. That same evening, he drove Uddhav home in his silver Mercedes. At Matoshree, the home of Uddhav's father and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, Raj spent half an hour talking with his uncle. He has since made several visits to the Thackeray residence.
Raj has insisted that the new closeness is a personal matter. "It's our personal matter, and you too should note and respect that," he said. But the buzz about a possible political reconciliation between the two branches of the family will just not die down.
In 2006, Raj quit the Shiv Sena to form his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The split in the Thackeray family meant that the Shiv Sena's vote base split, allowing the Congress and NCP coalition to rule Maharashtra unhindered.
Raj and Uddhav have over the last few years taken potshots at each other in public, with both leaders trying to consolidate the Marathi vote in their favour. Raj's MNS has been growing in stature - in the recent civic elections in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, it did better than expected.
Party workers in the Shiv Sena believe that by presenting a united front along with the BJP, the Thackerays could offer a serious challenge to the incumbent government of the Congress and its partner, Sharad Pawar's NCP. In 2014, Maharashtra will pick its next government along with the general election.