Before funeral, family tension

Mumbai, Nov. 18: Differences among relatives were at play in the hours preceding Bal Thackeray's funeral that drew around 15 lakh people, a source close to the family said today.

"There was tension in the family ' a clash of egos between Jaidev, Uddhav and Raj," said the source who was inside the Thackeray home, Matoshree, last night and this morning. The source was referring to the Shiv Sena founder's second and third sons and nephew, respectively.

While Jaidev as well as Uddhav wanted to light their father's funeral pyre, the family insider said, Thackeray's immediate family was not keen on Raj taking an active role in the funeral procession.

Jaidev, Thackeray's second son who neither lives in Matoshree nor holds a post in the Sena, was upset at being informed that Uddhav, the youngest son and the Shiv Sena executive president, would light the pyre. Thackeray's first son Bindumadhav is no more.

However, Jaidev and Uddhav later buried their differences and ensured that estranged cousin Raj did not lend a shoulder to carry his uncle's body.

"Raj was discouraged from carrying Balasaheb's body outside the house ' there was a feeling among a section of Shiv Sena leaders that it would be very damaging, visually, for Uddhav. They said pictures of Raj carrying Balasaheb's body on his shoulder with Uddhav, Jaidev and Aditya (Uddhav's son) might be seen as an admission on Uddhav's part that Raj was an equal stakeholder in Saheb's political legacy," said the source.

"Visual impact" is a particularly touchy subject in the family, especially since Raj has a striking resemblance to his uncle and many Sainiks consider him the rightful heir to Thackeray's political legacy. Through his aggressive position on sensitive issues, Raj has added to that perception.

"Raj is younger than Uddhav by about 10 years. When he was a child, he lived mostly in Matoshree. Balasaheb would often make him sit in his lap while talking to his political associates. He taught him to fly kites and draw cartoons ' they had a special bond," said the family source. Raj's room in Matoshree has been kept locked under Thackeray's instructions.

Raj's growing presence at Matoshree when Thackeray's health deteriorated had deepened the schism, the source said.

Raj was not on the truck that carried his uncle's body ' an absence that stood out because of the presence of almost the entire Thackeray clan, including Raj's wife Sharmila, Uddhav's wife Rashmi and Jaidev's former wife Smita.

Raj walked the 10km stretch between Matoshree and Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar, which is being seen as a masterstroke in public relations as he drew more attention than the multiple figures on the truck.

Just before the cortege entered the Shiv Sena headquarters, he left the procession and went home. Raj had pledged "not to step into Sena Bhavan" after forming the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in 2006.

"Rajsaheb feels it was a private affair of the party at Sena Bhavan. Balasaheb's body was taken to his personal chamber on the fifth floor ' so he did not want to intrude," an MNS leader said.

When the moment came, Raj again displayed his instincts and sense of the occasion. Raj reached Shivaji Park, the funeral site and also the launch pad of the Sena decades ago, just before the cortege entered the ground, which is close to the MNS leader's home.

Cousins Raj and Uddhav then stood side by side, accepting condolences and intermittently talking to each other.