‘Raj era’ fast fading out in Maharashtra

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the far-right party headed by firebrand Raj Thackeray, is fast losing relevance in the only pocket where it exists – Maharashtra. To be more specific, Mumbai, Thane and Nashik.  With no friends or alliances to back, the MNS is not even attempting to contest the Lok Sabha polls. The ‘Raj era’ has set over Maharashtra and it is to be seen if the party will be able to regain some ground in the Assembly polls in the state two years away.

In its first political foray in 2009 when it was formed, the MNS had won 13 seats, 12 had come from Mumbai, Thane, Nashik region. But currently, it has no MLAs, having lost its only MLA who won in 2014 to the Shiv Sena. Of its original 13 MLAs, only three are still with the party.

Raj Thackeray is thus desperately trying to survive.

Thackeray chickened out of Lok Sabha elections in 2019 for two reasons: no political party was willing to ally with the MNS; secondly, an imminent defeat in the Lok Sabha polls would have exposed his weakness in terms of numbers. It has never won a seat in the Lok Sabha polls since its formation in 2009.

From an Assembly poll share of 5.71 per cent in 2009, the MNS share nose-dived to  3.1 per cent in 2014. In 2019, it would have further dipped and this was the fear playing in the mind of Thackeray.

He is today a lonely man. The MNS chief was first a big fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2011, he was personally invited by Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, to tour the Sate and see all the developments. After the tour, the MNS chief had told Gujaratis “I believe you are very lucky to have Narendra Modi as your leader.”

Subsequently he had a good rapport with Modi despite his ties straining with the BJP due to local factors. But last week, Thackeray described Modi as a Hitler who was the biggest threat to Indian democracy at a rally in Nanded in Maharashtra. He has now promised to carry an anti-Modi campaign across Maharashtra.

He has asked his workers to campaign against Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP. He also raised questions over the attack in Pulwama and over rising unemployment.

This should have been music to the ears of Sharad Pawar’s NCP which has a poll pact with the Congress. Though the NCP was keen on getting Thackeray on board, the Congress rightly put its foot down due to the MNS leaders’ rant against north Indians in Mumbai. Any tie-up with the MNS would have hit the Congress as the party’s vote bank in Mumbai comprises of minorities and migrant voters from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The MNS has been carrying out a virulent campaign against minorities and migrant workers from these states.

Thackeray’s attacks against Modi is primarily dictated by the MNS chief’s need to keep himself relevant at a time when his party’s political fortunes are in the dumps.

Much of the blame for the downfall of the MNS lies on the shoulders of Raj Thackeray. He is not a dependable partner, highly inconsistent, not willing to make compromises and the dividing line between his supporters and goondas is rather blurred.

When he emerged on the political horizon in Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray had nursed an ambition to inherit the Shiv Sena mantle from his uncle Bal Thackeray. Raj Thackeray had the looks of Bal Thackeray, almost spoke like the senior leader packing his speeches with fire and brimstone, stood solidly for Marathi pride and was a known rabble-rouser – a brand of politics that Shiv Sena practiced in Maharashtra.

Bal Thackeray kept him at a distance while grooming his son Uddhav Thackeray. A series of snubs and neglect by the Shiv Sena forced Raj Thackeray to launch the MNS in 2009. Initially he followed the brand of politics practiced by the Shiv Sena. And when that did not work, he became more aggressive and was keen on remaining relevant by means that were not fair.

But there seems to be a tacit understanding that Raj Thackeray would campaign for Congress-NCP candidates where needed. The Congress is not keen on Thackeray campaigning in Mumbai.

Thackeray still manages to draw crowds, but not enough to win seats. In Maharashtra politics, he will remain just a noisy trouble maker desperate to get some limelight.

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