After a six-year-long cold war, Raj Thackeray was at cousin Uddhav's side today. In fact, he drove the Shiv Sena executive president home in his silver Mercedes from Mumbai's Lilavati Hospital, where Uddhav went through an angiography earlier today. Uddhav's own beige Mercedes followed behind for the short journey to Matoshri - the home of Uddhav's father and Shiv Sena founder, Bal Thackeray.
The signs of healing were evident as the cousins emerged from the hospital looking comfortable around each other. Uddhav, wearing a striped T-shirt, waved to the cameras before riding shotgun with Raj, who he last met in 2009. On that occasion, Raj had visited Matoshri to inquire about Bal Thackeray's health.
After falling out with Uddhav and Bal Thackeray in 2006, Raj formed his own Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The party did better than expected in the 2007 and 2012 civic polls in Maharashtra, and is being recognized as strong enough to play the role of kingmaker. If they team up, the Shiv Sena believes, they will help consolidate the Marathi vote, which is currently being split between them.
Today, Raj spent half an hour inside the house, which was once a second home to him. He was on the road this morning on his way to alibag for a party function when he heard that Uddhav had been hospitalized with chest pains. He turned around and headed to visit his elder cousin. And then returned in the evening with his wife Sharmila and mother. He then returned at 5 pm to drive Uddhav back home. Sources in the Shiv Sena say they are moved by the gesture and that the rapprochement could prompt a political partnership. Raj's camp is more cautious; suggesting that would be reading too much into what was essentially a family affair.
But the photo-ops today could re-design politics in the state ahead of 2014, when, along with the general election, Maharashtra will vote for its next government. Sena workers believe that Raj and Uddhav should present a united front with the BJP to offer a formidable challenge to the incumbent combo of the Congress and Sharad Pawar's NCP, who will be looking for their fourth consecutive term.