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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014

Raj goes to town, steals a march on Sena

Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, August 22, 2012
First Published: 00:46 IST(22/8/2012) | Last Updated: 00:51 IST(22/8/2012)

Raj Thackeray managed to create a buzz in the city and rattled all political parties, especially the Shiv Sena, with his show of strength on Tuesday.

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The timing of the rally was crucial for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief. It comes soon after his emotional reunion with uncle, Sena chief Bal Thackeray, and cousin, Uddhav, which sparked off the debate about whether he is ready to merge his party with the Sena. It also comes at a time when the MNS cadre's morale is low as the party has failed to win a share in power in Mumbai's municipal corporation, following the civic polls in February.

Raj used the opportunity not just to galvanise the party cadre but also to show that he is still a force to reckon with.

While the Sena's response to the Azad Maidan violence was cautious, Raj on Tuesday sent out a message to his cadre and his supporters that he has the ability to do what was expected from the Sena leadership. And that, if need be, he may not hesitate to sacrifice Muslim votes for a large chunk of the Sena-BJP votes.

"There was anger among our supporters over what they saw on TV on August 11, but nothing was done by our alliance because of different reasons. Our cadre and supporters wanted what the MNS did - to put on a show of strength as an answer to the Azad Maidan incident," said a senior Sena leader, who did not wish to be named.

"He capitalised on the anger. Also, he cleverly linked the incident to his pet issue of 'sons of the soil versus outsiders'. This will help him send the right message to the Maharashtrian support base he is aiming for," said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

Will he succeed in grabbing the Sena's support base?

This can't be measured immediately as there is no big election likely for two years. A lot will depend on how he keeps up the momentum - something he failed to do in the civic polls.

The Sena will surely try to hit back. Raj's success will also depend on how he scores over the Sena in the coming days and raises further doubts over the capability of the Sena leadership to win elections.

As far as his Muslim support is concerned, he has gambled.

At least one-third of his MLAs got a considerable number of votes from Muslim areas when they were elected in 2009.

Though Raj has blamed the "outsiders" for the violence, it is to be seen how his Muslim voters will respond to his use of the sons-of-the-soil card with its subtle Hindutva tint.


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