It was only a week ago that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was detained over his renewed agitation over toll collection, and later got an assurance from the chief minister that his party's suggestions would be incorporated in the new toll policy, but the saffron parties have already labelled his campaign a damp squib.
A file photo of MNS chief Raj Thackeray in Mumbai. (AFP Photo)
No significant public opinion seems to have been generated on the issue, unlike the MNS' 2009 violent agitation in which Raj Thackeray had managed to get the attention of the traditional voters of the Shiv Sena. This also raises doubts on whether the MNS is losing appeal among the middle class and sons of the soil, whose votes for Thackeray changed the political calculations of mainstream parties five years ago.
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According to sources, Thackeray’s appeal to workers for a peaceful protest, his meeting with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to discuss the toll policy, and increasing chatter on his tacit understanding with the ruling alliance, sent confusing signals to both his cadre and voters.
Apart from a stray incident at Thane's Kharegoan toll naka, where a few MNS workers protested, leading to arrests, the toll issue which Raj is looking at as his poll plank, appears to have mellowed down. "The rally [which led to his detention] did not attract any attention, and Mumbai traffic moved as usual. People have concluded that this is a political stunt," said senior Sena leader Subhash Desai.
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BJP state president, Devendra Fadnavis, said, "We have already said that if our government comes into power, we will remove toll. By raising such issues, he is only losing his mass base," said Fadnavis.
“After Mahayuti [ saffron alliance], Raj realised his importance was diminishing. He believes the toll issue will help him get back into action. The MNS’ popularity is sure to help the Congress-NCP, but whether it will be a repeat of 2009, is something we will have to wait and watch,” said political commentator Prakash Bal.
The MNS denied the agitation is not going anywhere. Party legislator Bala Nandgankar said, “The CM has promised us that the government will come up with a new toll policy before the elections are announced. We will wait for the decision."