MNS hopes for timely Shiv Sena-BJP split
Faced by a string of defeats from 2014, Raj, however, is confident his party will do wellmumbai Updated: Jan 23, 2017 00:45 IST
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) will face the crucial February polls amid low morale, large-scale defections and paucity of funds. For its founder and chief Raj Thackeray, this could be a watershed election, which could prove to be a deciding factor for his and his party’s future.
Faced by a string of defeats from 2014, Raj, however, is confident his party will do well, notwithstanding the criticism that has come his way. “I am not bothered by what the media says. People are clever to judge and see the good performance by MNS in various civic bodies,” said Raj.
While the party is facing a shortage of funds, which Raj admits, MNS workers are confused about the strategy to be adopted in the election. Issues like injustice to the son-of-the-soil and bashing the North Indians, which dominated five years ago, are no longer relevant today.
Insiders say the MNS wants to exploit the split between the Shiv Sena and BJP. “The BJP will help us in many seats where the Sena is strong, as their focus is to damage the Sena. Any division of Maharashtrian votes will help the BJP,” said an MNS leader.
The MNS has started back-channel talks with the BJP. “Both the Sena and MNS share the same vote bank and any aggression by the MNS will affect the Sena’s prospects,” he said.
Raj recently called the BJP his main rival, but many say it was to show the Maharashtrian voters that he is ready to take on the BJP. “He wants to cash in on the discontent among voters who are angry with the BJP and call Sena’s bluff as they are partners,” said a party insider.
Raj plans to sell the Nashik model of governance, where he claims the MNS, which was in power, was successful in creating the best infrastructure in the city. However, even here the party’s strength has been reduced to less than half from the 40 at the start of the term.
In Mumbai, five corporators have left the party, along with scores of their supporters. Top MNS leaders such as Pravin Darekar, Ram Kadam, Ramesh Patil and Vasant Gite, all former legislators, left to join the BJP.
Political analysts say Raj will not be able to repeat the 2012 success on his own. They blame Raj for this impasse, saying he did not make good use of the mandate given by people. “People look at Raj as an entertainer, than a politician,” said Prakash Bal, a political commentator. “They appreciate his speeches, but it does not translate into votes. Raj is no longer as strong as he used to be.”
In the past few years, Raj has been known for his nuisance value than his constructive work. His recent opposition against Pakistani artistes working in India got him publicity, but the party didn’t benefit much.
Raj, who was groomed by his uncle and founder of the Shiv Sena, the late Bal Thackeray, was the top leader of the outfit. Following the rise of his cousin Uddhav, in 2005, he finally quit the party and formed his own outfit the next year. His debut election in the 2007 BMC polls was a disaster as he won just seven seats. However, he gained strength in 2008, when he aggressively pursued the sons-of-the-soil agenda, as his party men targeted north Indians and blamed them for the woes of Maharashtrians in the city.
The following year was almost Raj’s year, as he did exceptionally well in both the parliamentary and Assembly polls. Although he drew a blank in Lok Sabha, his candidates ensured the defeat of the Sena-BJP and helped the Congress indirectly. This was repeated in the Assembly polls, where the party won 13 seats and ensured the Sena-BJP remained in the Opposition benches. The MNS was able to win 28 seats in the 2012 civic polls.
In the 2014 parliamentary and Assembly polls, the MNS was swept away by the Modi wave and got only one Assembly seat.