Warring cousins on stage with families

Mumbai, Dec. 26: Uddhav and Raj Thackeray were among the guests at Narendra Modi's swearing-in today, sparking speculation whether the cousins would play a role if the Gujarat leader pitches himself as the NDA's prime ministerial candidate.

Seen together in public for the first time since the November 18 funeral of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, the two sat separated by BJP leaders on the dais. The cousins were not spotted speaking to each other and the vibes between them seemed cold, sources said.

Uddhav, the Sena executive president, was flanked by the BJP's Venkaiah Naidu and Ravi Shankar Prasad. Raj sat next to Republican Party of India (RPI) leader Ramdas Athawale, who has opposed plans to bring his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on board a Sena-BJP-RPI coalition in Maharashtra.

Uddhav's son Aditya, who heads Sena's youth wing Yuva Sena, was seated next to Athawale. Uddhav's wife Rashmi and Raj's spouse Sharmila were in the second row, behind their husbands.

Raj's son Amit was also present. Aditya's presence is being seen as an attempt by Uddhav to project himself and his son on a national platform after the Sena founder's demise.

The presence of the cousins and their families threw up several questions in the context of the political churning expected in the run-up to the 2014 general elections.

The Sena is one of BJP's oldest allies in the NDA. After initially saying it would contest up to 20 seats in the Gujarat polls, the party dropped the plan and declared support to Modi saying it would not like to divide Hindu votes.

Modi, too, has been a regular visitor to Matoshri, the Thackerays' Mumbai bungalow, in the past and made it a point to go and offer his condolence to Uddhav and Raj after the Sena patriarch's demise.

Raj had toured Gujarat last year on an invitation from Modi to see his development initiatives. He had also met Modi during the chief minister's Sadbhavna Yatra earlier this year. Since that tour, Raj has not only praised Modi but also cited Gujarat's development to hit out at the Sena's rule in the BMC, the Mumbai civic body, and Maharashtra's ruling Congress-NCP coalition.

Raj has publicly endorsed Modi as a prime ministerial candidate in the past. He also shares a close personal equation with BJP president Nitin Gadkari. According to analysts, the proximity to Modi and Gadkari could help Raj in the event of a BJP-MNS alliance, not an impossible prospect.

With Uddhav, it is more about keeping a three-decade alliance intact. "Uddhav is unsure if the BJP will continue the alliance after his father's demise," said an analyst, adding anti-Modi camps within the BJP could make the equations complex ahead of 2014.

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