Is it time to write off Raj Thackeray's MNS?

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 10, 2015 17:07 IST

Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) celebrated its ninth foundation day on Monday. It is not so difficult to guess the mood in the party after the two crushing defeats it suffered in two successive elections recently—the Lok Sabha (no seat won) and the assembly election (1 seat won, against 13 in 2009).

In both the elections, the BJP and the Shiv Sena – then the main opposition parties in the state – took benefit of anti-incumbency, among the other things, and won power as people wanted change. The MNS failed to do the same. In the past few years, Raj Thackeray has been appealing to people to defeat established parties and vote for the MNS to see change, but it seems people were not convinced that he could actually bring about the change. Instead, they responded to Modi’s call and rejected the MNS, which lost all its seats. In the battle between mainstream parties in the state, the MNS was nowhere in the picture. To make matters worse, several party functionaries including influential leaders such as long time-Raj aide Pravin Darekar quit the MNS.

So, what went wrong for the party? The MNS came into focus because of its agenda. It staged violent protests against the migrant north Indians and tried to snatch the space occupied by the Shiv Sena. Within a span of a few weeks, Raj Thackeray kicked up a political storm and shot to prominence. His parochial campaign received enormous response in traditional Sena strongholds. The outcome was seen in Lok Sabha and assembly elections in 2009. The Sena-BJP alliance was badly damaged. MNS won 13 seats in the assembly, and bagged even more seats than Sena or BJP in Mumbai.

It looked like the MNS had potential to become a major political player in the next few years. But somewhere down the road, Raj lost steam. Parochial issues don’t take the party too far. According to experts, two things are important for a party: a state-wide organisation with a strong set of second-rung leaders, and a continuous presence on the political platform by raising the issues that matter to the people. The MNS fared badly on both these fronts, even as Sena- BJP seized the opportunity. They kept attacking the Congress-led governments in the state as well as at the Centre, over various issues concerning the people — whether it was corruption or inflation. The Modi wave then dealt a deadly blow to the MNS — first in Lok Sabha elections and then in the Assembly elections. The party is now demoralised and dejected.

Political experts offer different opinions on what could happen to the MNS. While some say it will slowly diminish or l ose relevance, others would prefer to wait for some more time before writing off Raj. Theoretically, no political party that has considerable following among the people ends. A party needs an issue or two at the right time to regain lost ground. Also, an influential leader who can draw crowds can always bounce back if he strikes a chord with the people.

But that is not enough to win elections and wield political clout. For that, the party would need a wellbuilt organisation and an agenda that would focus the concern of the people whom the party considers its support base. Even Thackeray’s close aides say they know what the party should be doing. What they don’t know is: When will their leader recognise the same?

Addressing his followers on Monday, Thackeray tried to revive his ‘marathi manoos’ agenda by declaring opposition to the civic body’s draft development plan which he described as a conspiracy t o oust the Marathi manoos from Mumbai. He also declared his opposition to the development of Aarey Colony and demolition of buildings in Girgaon for Metro 3. Will the MNS follow it up with agitations or goes back into hibernation? We will see in the next few days.

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