Mumbai: Well before his death Saturday, Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray had anointed son Uddhav Thackeray as the successor to his political legacy.
Last year he went a step further and moved even grandson Aditya to the front−line, silencing any potential claimants to the party mantle.
A clear message went down the rank and file and to allies Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Republican Party of India (RPI), and the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party over who would be the next to carry the Sena Pramukh's mantle.
Yet, discreet efforts continued by some old Thackeray family retainers to bring back to the fold his estranged nephew, Raj Thackeray, who had walked out of Matoshri to independently launch the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Though initially Uddhav appeared to be reluctant at the rapprochement attempts, insiders claim he underwent a change of heart after his recent cardiac illness, but the duo will still have to contend with some hawks opposed to the move.
After all, the damages wreaked by the MNS on the Shiv Sena, BJP and RPI saffron alliance in the last Lok Sabha, assembly and even civic elections across the state are too recent to be forgotten.
Akin to several leading political families, the challenge to Uddhav is perceived more from within than outside. The so−called "outsiders" do not boast of the magical Thackeray surname.
Political analysts say Uddhav has his job well−cut after his father's demise. In the absence of Bal Thackeray's overwhelming personality, check the growth of its ally BJP, thwart attempts by the Congress−NCP to undermine Shiv Sena, and probably risk an understanding with the MNS to prevent further erosion of Sena votebanks.
However, Bal Thackeray's rhetoric, ability to incite strong passions on any issue, bewitching charisma and powerful oratory, seem to be elude Uddhav.
Luckily, Uddhav may not even need these assets, given the changed social−economic−political scenario, increasing literacy, growing affluence of the average Maharashtrian, exposure to more than just the party mouthpiece Saamna, and affirmation that peace alone leads to prosperity.
Uddhav may be required to concentrate more on economics than politics, reconciliation rather than radicalism, nationalism more than parochialism to lure the younger generation of Maharashtrians to the party and its ideology.
After all, now the BJP and RPI could become more aggressive in demanding their pound of flesh, while Raj, often compared to his charismatic uncle, could prove more attractive to the Marathi voter and end up spoiling the party for Uddhav.
With the 'Hindu Hridaysamrat' (king of Hindu hearts) gone from the scene, the BJP will now attempt to project itself at the true flag−bearer of the Hindu nationalism, weakening Uddhav, although Raj, with a soft stance towards Dalits and minorities, may refrain from openly adopting the 'Hindu Rashtrawadi' line.
All this within barely 16 months before the next round of general elections in 2014.
And the clock is ticking away furiously.