If there’s anyone who has gained from the Azad Maidan violence, it’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray. The protest organised by Raza Academy and Madinatul Ilm to condemn violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar that led to mob violence on August 11 has now morphed into a north Indians versus Marathi manoos issue, with other parties following Thackeray’s script of identity politics.
Last month, when he organised the protest march against the August 11 violence, Thackeray cleverly termed those who caused the violence ‘outsiders’ – Bangladeshis. In the span of 10 days, with a little help from the Bihar chief secretary, the spotlight is back on Thackeray and the outsiders are now North Indians, who come in 48 trains daily from ‘Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand’.
“Thackeray has seized this opportunity for future electoral gain and to create a stronger political space for himself. He has managed to send across an emotive message to his Maharashtrian voter base. It also reflects a certain political bankruptcy in the Congress,’’ said B Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst. Such incidents could upset political calculations of both Congress and Shiv Sena in Mumbai, where Raj is carving out a space as a ‘mass leader’, Kumar said. Both Congress and Sena are on the backfoot. While the Congress is accused of going soft on Thackeray, the Sena has been left with no alternative but to follow the lead of the MNS, which is hijacking its agenda.
Senior Congress politicians admit the party goofed up in handling the situation, including giving Thackeray credit for Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik’s transfer, but sought to deflect the larger part of the blame on to the NCP, which controls the home department.
“The home department goofed up from the beginning in the way the Azad Maidan protest was handled, then Thackeray was allowed to get political mileage by organising a rally.
If Thackeray continues to sustain the momentum by leveraging such incidents till the next polls, he may strike a home run in Mumbai.