Aaditya Thackeray, the son of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, confirmed on Monday that he will contest the October 21 Maharashtra election, which makes him the first of his family to ever fight polls. The young leader, groomed to lead the party in the future, will be the Sena's candidate from the Worli assembly constituency, a party stronghold in Mumbai. The seat is currently the Sena's.
"I am contesting the elections... I have taken the big plunge. I am sure of victory as I have the blessings of you all," Aaditya Thackeray said at a Shiv Sena gathering organised for his big announcement.
Wearing saffron headgear, Aaditya Thackeray held aloft a traditional sword, cheered by workers, to mark his new outing. "I believe I cannot do anything else. I have to serve the people. I have to do what my grandfather (Bal Thackeray) taught me," he said, "seeking permission" of the Worli MLA to fight the election.
Though long-time ally BJP has made it clear that Devendra Fadnavis will continue as chief minister if the alliance returns to power, the Sena declared that it wanted the top post for Aaditya Thackeray, 29. Sena leader Sanjay Raut used a Chandrayaan analogy to explain, describing the youngest Thackeray politician as a "Suryayan".
"Due to some technical glitch, Chandrayaan 2 couldn't land on the moon but we will ensure that this sun (Aaditya Thackeray) reaches the sixth floor of mantralaya (the Chief Minister's office) on 21st October," said the Sena leader.
To cheers and applause, Aaditya said: "This decision is not for me, but for the people and getting justice to the masses. This is the time for us to create a 'New Maharashtra'. It is not for me to become the Chief Minister but to fight for the peoples' right."
If alliance talks do work out, the Sena may have to settle for the post of deputy for its rising star.
No member of the Thackeray family has ever contested an election or even held a constitutional post since patriarch Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in 1966.
The change in policy is believed to be driven by the need to have a strong voice from within the family in the Maharashtra assembly, to rebuild the party in the long-term, with the BJP overtaking it as the single largest in Maharashtra.
Aaditya Thackeray had been building up to it. In July, he jump-started his campaign with a "Jan Ashirwad Yatra", a state-wide outreach to "thank voters" for their support in the national election and to canvass votes for the state polls.
In the 2014 Maharashtra election, the BJP and the Shiv Sena had contested separately after failing to agree on seat-sharing. Aaditya was then too young to contest.
The BJP emerged as the largest party, winning 122 out of the 260 seats it had contested. The Sena won 63 out of 282 seats. The Congress and the NCP had won 42 and 41 seats.
The long-term allies later tied up to form a BJP-led government but the alliance remained strained.
Known to be passionate about youth issues, poetry, photography and football, Aaditya is not just popular among the Sena cadre but is also, to those outside the party, the Sena's affable face.