Till recently, most Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leaders would, publicly and privately, attribute their electoral success to party chief and self-confessed chief ministerial aspirant Raj Thackeray. That has now changed. Many in the party are attributing the party’s continuing dismal show to their leader. That, then, is the irony of the eight-year-old party: Raj, the charismatic orator was the driving force behind the party’s success. Now, Thackeray, the eccentric politician with his flip-flops and his strategic blunders, has become just as much of a reason for the party’s mauling.
The MNS leaders kept hoping that despite the growing discontent against the party, Raj, with his oratory, would be able to “change the mood”. He tried by holding more than 25 rallies in 10-12 days. Ironically, the only seat that the party won was a seat where Thackeray did not address a rally — in Pune’s Junnar.
Since the first rally of the party in a packed Shivaji Park, Raj’s political beliefs have followed an amusingly wave-like trajectory: from being the leader who spoke of seeing the state’s farmers wearing jeans to being the rabble-rouser who delivered violence-inciting speeches against migrants to trying to reinvent himself as a development-oriented leader.
It’s this inconsistency in his idea of the identity of himself, a near-apathy in building the organisation from the high of 2009 and a series of strategic blunders that have led the party to the brink of near-decimation. Raj has publicly revelled in not having a second-rung leadership; now his second-rung will sit at home, having been decimated. Most criticised the delay in bringing a blueprint but Thackeray cockily defended it, saying, that it was timed perfectly since it came just before the polls.
He also thought that a U-turn in first declaring himself as a contestant and then back-tracking, praising Modi after Lok Sabha polls and then criticising him within months would go unnoticed. Many believe that his inconsistency has been exploited by ‘friends’. That the BJP, during the Lok Sabha polls, blunted his effect wisely was noticed. Party leaders say even cousin Uddhav exploited it. After the saffron alliance went bust, Uddhav called Raj and asked him not to target the Sena. Raj, in not criticising the Sena, ensured that the traditional Sena voter, who had walked to the MNS in 2009, walked back to the parent body.
Raj now faces the tough task of finding a stable identity. Will he go back to the brand of politics that made him infamous or will he stick it out with his development oriented new self? More than the state needing it, it’s his own political career that needs a blueprint.