The Election Commission has announced the dates for polls in Maharashtra. Elections will be held for 288 seats on October 21.
The National Democratic Alliance government in Maharashtra, led by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, is aiming to retain power, riding on the popularity of the central government, the bold steps taken by the Modi-Shah duo on Kashmir and schemes/initiatives of the state government.
A listless Opposition is further helping the cause of the NDA. Lack of unity in the Opposition ranks, with Prakash Ambedkar’s VBA contesting separately, has made the contest triangular and will lead to a split in anti-BJP votes.
Amidst all this, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is fighting for survival. There were reports that the party would not contest the state elections and boycott it demanding use of ballot papers. Raj had given a call to the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP to join him and pressurise the Election Commission to give up the use of electronic voting machines.
With this idea not flying, the party is expected to contest on 125 seats, as per a Times of India report. Party strategists feel not contesting would lead to exodus of party workers and leaders towards the BJP and the Sena.
Raj Thackeray, nephew of the legendary Balasaheb Thackeray, was considered his natural heir. The enigmatic Raj was a cartoonist, just like his uncle, an aggressive street-fighter taking up the cause of the Marathi manoos.
However, Balasaheb’s decision to pass on the party’s baton to son Uddhav irked Raj and he left the party due to differences with his cousin in January 2006.
In March 2006, he formed his own party MNS. Uddhav, a soft-natured person, who has photography as a hobby, had contrasting personal traits compared to Raj.
Some Sena quit the party to join MNS, but the big names remained with Uddhav. Raj may have thought that many top leaders are continuing in Sena due to respect of Balasaheb and he could engineer a big split post his eventual death.
The MNS initiated violent protests against North Indian migrants in the city of Mumbai. The party issued warnings to shops that they should have Marathi signboards as well. In many ways these agitations/protests were similar to the one carried out by Balasaheb against the dominance of people from South India during the 1960s.
The party did initially get some traction, especially from youth, but couldn’t sustain it. Raj wasn’t seen as a full-time/career politician. Uddhav handled party affairs well after Balasaheb’s demise in 2012.
Raj did enjoy pockets of influence in Mumbai, Nashik and Thane. However, the politics of hatred has a short shelf life. Raj couldn’t come up with new ideas for the development of Mumbai. Slowly people were fed up with his kind of aggressive politics of bandhs, protests and violence.
Uddhav was smart enough to gauge this change in people’s mood. Initially, he did try to match Raj’s raking up issues, but refrained from getting into a competition with the MNS.
Raj’s personal attack on Uddhav before the Lok Sabha elections that he didn’t take proper care of Balasaheb during his last days and survived on chicken soup sent from Raj’s home didn’t go down well with the Marathi electorate.
MNS, which made a decent debut in 2009 state elections winning 13 seats, has lost considerable influence since its formation. In 2014 state elections, all its candidates except one, lost. This MLA has also since moved to the BJP.
Almost all candidates lost their security deposit. In BMC elections in 2017, his party could win only 7 seats, down 75% from 28 won in 2012.
Vote Share of MNS
Raj reduced to a pawn
Political parties have used Raj to suit their own needs. The BJP used MNS to prevent a split in the saffron vote in 2014 general elections, promising alliance for state elections.
However, the BJP despite its break-up with Sena, didn’t finalize a deal with MNS, in an attempt to split the Marathi votes between Raj and Uddhav. Raj was amongst the first regional satraps to back Modi’s candidature as PM in 2014. However, in the build-up to state elections held six months later, he attacked Modi. He tried to create a Gujaratis versus Marathis rift which didn’t work.
During 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Raj started criticising Modi vigorously again, including personal attacks. He held 11 rallies where he drew strong crowds, ostensibly at the behest of Congress and NCP. However, the two parties didn’t offer a single seat to Raj in general elections with NCP chief Sharad Pawar promising some seats in state elections.
His rallies didn’t have any impact on the results. Pawar did try to convince Sonia Gandhi to have MNS in the alliance for state polls but the Congress is apprehensive this may alienate its support bank of migrants.
The Enforcement Directorate investigation in the IL&FS case have also significantly weakened his position. So much so that he didn’t even want to contest this election, if not from pressure from cadre.
Sena-MNS tie up?
Some senior leaders in the Shiv Sena also made efforts to bring the two brothers together when Uddhav was sharing an estranged relationship with the BJP. However, the issue is that the MNS has lost considerable influence since its formation. Many people now consider Raj as part-time politician and a spent force.
Further he was not able to wean away many Shiv Sainiks to his party even after Balasaheb’s death.
Raj at 51 is a young politician by Indian standards. However, the emergence of Aditya Thackeray has made a dent in his popularity and his party’s prospects. Aditya has emerged as a strong youth face of Sena, which was once occupied by Raj. He is being positioned as a potential deputy chief minister candidate.
Party strategists feel the Sena doesn’t have much to gain from this alliance.
To sum up, Raj Thackeray’s constant flip-flops, lack of development agenda and hate politics have failed to generate support from the people of Maharashtra reducing him to the statue of a mere paper tiger.
This article has been first published in Yahoo News.
Image Credit: indiatoday