The railway engine has all but run out of steam.
Chief ministerial aspirant Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have been nearly wiped off the state’s electoral map, with the party winning just one seat — down from its 2009 tally of 13.
Wiped out in Mumbai and its other urban support bases of Nashik, the Thane-Kalyan belt and Pune, every one of its sitting MLAs has been defeated.
The party’s lone seat came from Junnar in Pune district, courtesy of Sharad Sonavane, a Shiv Sena man who joined the MNS earlier this year.
The biggest shock for the party came from the fact that all its senior leaders — including Thackeray’s closest aides and sitting MLAs such as Bala Nandgaonkar, Nitin Sardesai and Pravin Darekar — lost by massive margins, causing the MNS further loss of face since many of these routs were in Maharashtrian-dominated regions like Mahim, Sewri and Bhandup West.
The party suffered its most severing drubbing in Nashik, a city that party chief Raj Thackeray has nurtured as his base since his days as a youth leader with the Shiv Sena.
Not only could none of the three MNS MLAs retain their seats, two of them came fifth and sixth in the race, losing by margins as high as 60,000.
In these saffron strongholds, the message was clear: Loyalties have shifted from the newer Sena back to its older foe.
Overall, the MNS vote share has plummeted from 5.7% in 2009, when the party contested 143 seats to 3.1% — even though it contested a far higher total of 231 seats.
WHAT NEXT FOR RAJ?
For Raj Thackeray, who broke away from the Thackeray clan because he believed he had it in him to be chief minister, the results are a rude awakening.
Thackeray had seen the break-up of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance as a chance to play kingmaker.
He changed his tactics, abandoned his parochial, identity-driven, often-violent politics and tried to be different things to different people.
In the run-up to the polls, Thackeray announced a ‘development blueprint’ for the state. From focusing solely on promises of special treatment for Maharashtrians and Marathi-speakers, he altered the script and tried to reinvent himself and his party.
Midway through the campaign, he switched to criticising the BJP and trying to play the Gujarati vs Marathi card.
The yo-yoing and change of tack left his troops with no direction, made his traditional votebank wary, and likely cost him the election.
Now, all that’s left after the drubbing is a fractured identity.
While pollsters and political pundits had predicted a poor showing for the party, the extent of the rout has taken everyone by surprise. The party’s failure to even open its account in crucial regions such as Marathwada and Vidarbha, has raised questions over whether it can stay relevant in the state.
Most senior leaders refused to speak to the media after the results. Thackeray chose not to meet the press.
“We knew that holding on to all the 13 seats was going to be tough, but we expected to win at least 8 or 10. This scenario didn’t even figure in our discussions,” one party leader confessed on Sunday.
“We need to introspect,” said senior party leader Bala Nandgaonkar. “We need to learn the lessons that this defeat offers.”