The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which completes five years on Wednesday, will face a crucial test in the 2012 civic polls in major cities such as Mumbai, Thane and Nashik.
Party workers anticipate that Raj, in his annual foundation day speech, will give his workers a clarion call for these polls. “Raj Thackeray is eyeing both Thane and Mumbai,” said political commentator Prakash Bal. “He knows very well that the Shiv Sena derives its strength from these places where it has been ruling for decades.”
Every party wants control over these cash-rich civic bodies. The budget of the Mumbai civic body (Rs21,000 crore) is more than the budget of many small states.
MNS leaders agree that these polls are crucial.“We will be major players this time,” said party spokesperson Shirish Parkar. The MNS was formed on March 9, 2006, after Raj walked out of the Sena, upset that his cousin, Uddhav Thackeray, was chosen to lead the party. In the 2007 civic elections, the MNS performed poorly, but in 2008, when Raj launched an agitation against migrants, he was able to secure the support of Maharashtrians. The result: in the 2009 Parliamentary and Assembly elections, the MNS caused considerable damage to the saffron alliance by splitting the Sena’s votes and helping the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance.
When Raj launched the party, he talked off all-round development of the state and inclusive politics. “He has restricted himself to the sons of the soil agenda and his only aim is to spoil the Sena’s prospects,” Prakash Bal said.
Parkar denied that the Marathi manoos dominates the party’s agenda. “Regional aspirations have come to the forefront and we endorsed them. However, when fighting the civic elections, we will focus on making cities livable,” Parkar said.
The Congress has called the MNS’s first five years “lacklustre”. “Raj Thackeray does not speak of development or the welfare of citizens but is only raising passions and misleading the native population,” said Congress legislator Amin Patel.