NAGPUR, Maharashtra — On Monday Aaditya Thackeray, grandson of Mumbai’s erstwhile strongman Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena’s heir apparent, president of the party’s youth wing, and the first Thackeray to contest an election, wrote a long blog on his party’s position on his government’s destruction of the Aarey forest in Mumbai.
At first sight, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC)’s decision to hack down over 2000 trees in the dead of night appeared tailor-made for the young Thackeray. The Shiv Sena had long opposed a plan to clear the forest to make way for a Metro car shed, putting it at odds with its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The sanctity forest had quickly become an emotive issue for young, environmentally conscious, social media savvy Mumbaikars — precisely the target demographic for 29-year-old Thackeray, who is looking to broaden the Sena’s diminishing appeal. And finally, the Shiv Sena had a long history of ignoring the law and taking to the streets to fulfill its demands.
Three weeks before an election in which the Shiv Sena has struggled to get out the BJP’s long shadow, this was Thackeray’s moment to prove his readiness for the bare-knuckled world of street politics.
But he blew it.
Rather than hit the streets with his youth army, Thackeray tweeted his support, even as the police roughed up and detained social activists and protestors. Opposition politicians like Prakash Ambedkar, the chief of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, the Nationalist Congress Party’s Member of Legislative Assembly Jitendra Avhad and several Shiv Sena activists were detained by the police, but Aadtiya Thackeray stayed home.
On social media, the blowback was vicious.
When the Twitter storm finally subsided, Thackeray’s reputation — carefully cultivated through choreographed statewide ‘Jan Ashirvad yatra’ — lay in...