Two years after it was formed, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena hit headlines.
But the visuals of MNS workers thrashing unsuspecting taxi drivers and vendors made them look like Shiv Sainiks.
After all, Raj Thackeray’s men were doing what the Sena was once notorious for. While Thackeray’s former party has decided to change its strategy, let the “outsiders” be and move on to issues larger issues like farmers’ suicides, Thackeray is going back to the Marathi manoos.
Sociologist Nandini Sardesai believes there is no rationale for such events. “These things happen at a very emotional level. It goes against the ethos of the city but the easiest way to arouse people’s emotions is to provoke them on the basis or caste, religion or language,” said Sardesai.
This is a typical ‘we versus they’ situation, she said. “The ‘they’ keeps on changing depending on the political compulsions of that time.”
The Sena’s changed ways — the party wants to go beyond its traditional Maharashtrian vote bank and hence wooing North Indians — have given Thackeray a chance to make a bid for its traditional voter base. And Thackeray, hoping to divert the Marathi manoos to his party, has jumped in to occupy that space.
“The Sena is focusing on developmental issues while Raj is trying to take over the old moral of the Sena, which is Mumbai for Maharashtrians,” said B. Venkatesh Kumar, political scientist at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Contemporary Studies, University of Mumbai. “He is an intelligent politician and with polls around he is trying to send messages. But how much of this positioning will help him is unclear.”
Thackeray, with his mannerisms and wit, was always looked at as the natural heir to uncle Bal Thackeray. But his differences with eventual heir Uddhav led him to walk out of the party taking with him a chunk of Sainiks, unhappy with the party’s changing corporatised image. “There was a lot of talk when he (Thackeray) moved out about the MNS being the actual Sena because people thought the Sena was having an identity crisis,” said Kumar. “People thought that after Bal Thackeray, Raj would become the actual torchbearer of Sena values.”
But the MNS did not make the kind of impact expected except win a few seats in the corporation elections last year. The Sena continued to dominate Mumbai’s political scene.
Proving the predictions wrong, the Sena under Uddhav Thackeray succeeded in retaining power in cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation although bigwigs like Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane quit the party.
Fired by its victory in the civic polls, the Sena is now gearing up for the 2009 assembly elections. The party does not want to lose votes of non-Maharashtrians who do not see the party as an enemy. Little wonder, it went all out to woo the same community it targeted during railway recruitment board exams at Kalyan a few years ago.
While this, and incidents like the murder of a Sena shakha pramukh allegedly by North Indians in neighbouring Thane district’s Wada, left lower rung Sainiks unhappy, it also put the Mumbai for Maharahstrians motto up for grabs.
“Raj is probably looking at snatching the space and telling Maharashtrians that the Sena has moved but he is there for them,” said Kumar.