Rashmi Thackeray and her younger sister-in-law Sharmila have nothing in common except their surnames. However, the do-or-die battle in the Lok Sabha election has given them a common identity as star campaigners. In a rare scene, the Thackeray daughters-in-law are campaigning for their respective parties Shiv Sena and MNS independent of their husbands.
Rashmi, wife of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, was always reluctant for public appearance with him. Whenever Uddhav addressed public meetings she preferred to sit in the audience to gauge their mood.
She spoke before the party’s women workers in his absence. She changed her mind in view of the importance of this election for Uddhav’s political survival. If Shiv Sena wins at least 15 seats it will be a befitting reply to Uddhav’s critics who allege that he is not an influential leader.
Rashmi chose Mumbai’s neighbourhood Dombivli, where she spent her childhood, to show her political acumen. A Brahmin by birth, she addressed a rally there and appealed her community fellows to show trust in Shiv Sena for their welfare. The Brahmin votes in this area are vital because they can swing the election result. Shiv Sena has fielded a Maratha while its rival candidate from NCP is a Brahmin. Rashmi also has conducted road shows in South and Central Mumbai.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said that Rashmi’s contribution in the campaign was important for the party. “She always talks sweetly but firmly. We had urged her in the past elections also to join us in the campaign but she was reluctant. Her entry has lowered Uddhavji’s burden,” she said.
MNS president Raj Thackeray’s wife Sharmila’s role was limited to opening of new branches of the party. She kept herself busy with the children’s education and taking feedback from the workers about the party’s functioning. She had accompanied Raj in several rallies but remained as mute spectator.
A changed Sharmila is now conducting road shows for the MNS candidates on her own. She was present when a candidate actor Mahesh Manjrekar filed his nominations. She is visiting lanes and by-lanes in the Mumbai North-West constituency seeking votes for him. She also campaigned in high profile areas of Pune for MNS candidate Deepak Paigude. Sharmila has visited Kalyan constituency on the outskirts of Mumbai more than Raj in a fortnight.
“The workers expect saheb (Raj) to campaign everywhere but it is not possible because of his busy schedule. Vahini Sharmila has bridged the gap. She not only injects enthusiasm among them but also helps them plan certain strategies at local level,” said Reeta Gupta, a leader of MNS women wing. Thereis a speculation that Sharmila will head the women’s wing after the election.