As Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray turns 48 today, the next two years will prove crucial to both him as well as the future of the party.
The question is — whether Thackeray will be able to resurrect his career, which has been on the downhill from 2014, and infuse life in his party that is currently besieged by deserting leaders and confused workers?
According to political commentator Prakash Bal, the 2017 civic elections of Mumbai, Thane and Nasik would virtually be a do-or-die situation for Thackeray, a leading political figure of Maharashtra. “His political acumen will be on test in the 2017 civic polls. If he fails, it would be a crisis situation for him, where his relevance would be questioned,” said Bal.
Bal rued that Thackeray has not been able to gather political capital as expected in 2009, when his party did exceptionally well in both parliamentary and Assembly polls.
A BJP leader, who has followed Thackeray from his student days, said the basic problem with Thackeray was he has not been able to create an agenda or a structure for his party. “Unlike Bal Thackeray (Shiv Sena founder and his uncle), Thackeray has been not able to constitute a second line of leadership. The entire party is a one-man show and he is surrounded by people, who have absolutely no knowledge of ground reality,” he said. “The unique selling point of MNS is Thackeray’s oratorical skills, but you cannot run an outfit on its basis.”
Thackeray was the top leader in the Shiv Sena groomed by his uncle, the late Bal Thackeray. However problems started when Bal Thackeray started promoting his son Uddhav, almost anointing him as his heir apparent to lead the Sena. Uddhav and his coterie ensured Thackeray was marginalized to such an extent his supporters were deliberately sidelined and Thackeray was hardly consulted on policy matters of the party.
In 2005, he finally quit the party and the very next year -- 2006 -- formed his own outfit. His debut election in 2007 was a disaster. It was the Mumbai civic polls and his nascent party could win only seven seats. Many even proclaimed the party was dead. However, he gained strength in 2008, when he aggressively pursued the son-of-the-soil agenda, as his party men targeted north Indians and blamed them for the woes facing Maharashtrians in the city.
The following year was almost the year of Thackeray, 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 debutant 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.
However, in the 2014 parliamentary and Assembly polls, the MNS was swept away by the Modi wave and could hardly save itself as it got a Assembly seat. MNS top leaders such as Pravin Darekar, Ram Kadam, Ramesh Patil and Vasant Gite, all former legislators, all left the party to join the BJP.
MNS leader Nitin Sardesai defended the party saying it was because of the Modi wave, which swept everyone away. “It was just a temporary setback and we are back again. Every political party has its share of defectors, but it has not affected us at all. Our workers are back in action,” said Sardesai.
However, many feel the Marathi agenda is no longer relevant as the aspirations of the Maharashtrian youth have changed drastically. “Thackeray should realise the Maharashtrian youth has now become cosmopolitan over the years and is no longer parochial in his approach,” said the BJP leader.
However, Sardesai counters saying the Marathi agenda still remains intact. “We just want priority for locals and will continue to pursue the Marathi agenda,” said Sardesai. “Thackeray is the most popular leader in Maharashtra, who is acceptable to every section of the people. This will again be proved in the 2017 polls.”