Raj Thackeray was always looked upon as the natural successor to his uncle Bal Thackeray. In many ways — his wit, his arrogance, his mannerisms — he was the Shiv Sena chief’s clone. He even followed in his uncle’s artistic footsteps by becoming a cartoonist.
So when Raj quit the party in November 2005, it was a jolt not only to his uncle but also to the Sena’s hold over the city.
Claiming that the Sena was being run by a bunch of “clerks”, Raj decided to continue his political journey on his own.
No matter what Raj said, it was clear that he was leaving because he was unhappy about Thackeray’s son Uddhav being handed the reins of the party. The exit was a double-blow for the Sena, for it was preceded by that of Konkan strongman Narayan Rane.
After a state-wide tour, Raj launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) — a party that pitched itself as more secular than the Sena.
To prove his point, Raj added the colours blue and green to his party’s flag to appeal to Dalits and Muslims respectively.
This all-inclusive approach was in sharp contrast to his earlier tirade against North Indians in Mumbai, a campaign he led for the Sena.
Contrary to the Sena’s aggressive, often violent, reaction to many issues, the MNS maintained a low profile initially. But with the civic elections approaching, the fledgling party has become a cause for concern for the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine.
“After a long time, Raj has brought civic issues back to the forefront,” Aruna Pendse (51), a reader in the political science department of Mumbai University said. “Non-governmental organisations had taken up those issues, making non-political actors dominate the politics of this city. Raj is trying to reverse this. But we have to wait and see whether he keeps his promises.”
The MNS functions out of Dadar, traditionally a Sena stronghold. And with his image and Thackeray-like persona, Raj threatens to eat into the Sena’s share of Hindu — and predominantly Maharashtrian — votes. As a leader from the saffron combine puts it, the MNS has high “nuisance value”.
Raj could also prove to be a headache to ‘secular’ parties like the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party as he could attract their disgruntled members.
“With Raj being a cartoonist, businessman and leader, for the first time economics and politics will go together. It is definitely a welcome change,” said Raghav Narsalay (32), an award-winning economist. “With Raj’s party, people got an option apart from the four traditional parties they were forced to choose from.”
With his exit, the 38-year-old JJ School of Arts graduate changed Mumbai’s political scenario. In its struggle to retain its two-decade control over the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Sena-BJP cannot ignore Raj. And Raj cannot ignore the fact that his performance in these polls will prove his political mettle.
He is probably the only leader who can contest the Sena’s catch line ‘Mee Mumbaikar’ by proclaiming ‘Mee pan Mumbaikar’ (I am a Mumbaikar too).