The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena turns 11 on Thursday, but a party that was once seen as a kingmaker is now a minor irritant in the state’s politics.
Its very existence has been called into question after a series of lacklustre performances in the past three years.Political analysts blame party chief Raj Thackeray.
“Raj has failed to present a political programme to the masses and has belied all expectations they have reposed on him,”said Surendra Jondhale, an eminent political commentator.
He pointed out that when Raj began in 2006, he was a promising leader who would fill in the vacuum left by the Opposition.
“But Raj neither built a strong organisational network, nor did he put in place a second line of leadership, unlike his uncle Bal Thackeray (the Shiv Sena founder), who was his mentor.”
The party now has just seven corporators in the Mumbai civic body, as against the 28 in the previous term. In the Maharashtra Assembly, there is just one MNS legislator Sharad Sonavane, compared to 13 in 2009. In the Nashik Municipal Corporation, where the MNS had held power with 40 seats, it now has a measly three.
Experts also blame Raj for being caught in the past, by focusing solely on the “sons of soil issue”.
“Thackeray should realise the Maharashtrian youth has become cosmopolitan. Their aspirations are changing. He can no longer have a parochial approach,” said Prakash Bal, an eminent political analyst.
“Raj Thackeray is now not seen as a serious politician as he has squandered the mandate given to him.”
Some of the MNS’ agitations in recent times, like the protests against toll and the ban on Pakistani artists performing in India, were hardly seen through.
Raj was the top leader in the Sena. He was almost seen as Bal Thackeray’s successor.
So where did the problems begin? Experts believe it was when Bal Thackeray started promoting his son Uddhav. Uddhav and his coterie started marginalising Raj by sidelining his supporters and not involving him in the policy matters of the party.
In 2005, Raj finally left the party and, the very next year, started his own. His debut election in 2007 was a disaster as his new party could only win just seven seats. Many had said then that the party was dead. But he gained strength in 2008, when he aggressively pursued the sons-of-the-soil agenda, when his party men targeted north Indians and blamed them for the woes Maharashtrians faced in the city.
Raj did exceptionally well in both the parliamentary and Assembly polls, denting the Sena-BJP votebank and ensured their defeat in both elections.
But in the 2014 parliamentary and Assembly polls, the Modi wave swept the MNS away. Top MNS leaders such as Pravin Darekar, Ram Kadam, Ramesh Patil and Vasant Gite, all former legislators, left the party to join the BJP.
MNS leader Nitin Sardesai, however, defended the party saying MNS would bounce back and the “sons of soil” stand is still relevant. “Every political party has its ups and downs and even we will come back again.” “If America is talking of sons of soil, how is it not relevant here?” Sardesia said MNS was currently in introspection mode. “We are now at the very worst. So things can only get better,” he added.