In 2006, all eyes were on Raj Thackeray when he broke away from his parent party the Shiv Sena and formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. He was looked at as a cub, an offshoot of his uncle Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, and very often compared to him.
Today, almost four months after his uncle's demise, on the seventh foundation day of his party, Raj is facing his real political test and the MNS is emerging as one of the main political players in the vote equation of the state.
"This is the time Raj was waiting for, and with Balasaheb no more, it is his turn to prove his political finesse. Raj has decided to build up the party mood and to see how far he can go in 2014. He will go solo, and after the results, will make his moves," said a senior MNS functionary.
Over the past few days, he travelled through some parts of Maharashtra and addressed rallies that saw a huge turnout.
He targeted NCP leaders, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and his uncle Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, and blamed the irrigation scam for the drought-situation in Maharashtra.
His tour is being seen by the party cadre as his attempt to revive the party unit since the Lok Sabha elections are barely a year away, and the assembly polls are likely to be held in about 18 months.
Now, with anger among the people over a series of scams, inflation and handling of drought in one third of the state, the situation could be ripe for launching an attack on the ruling parties. The question being asked is: Will this formula work?
The MNS is completely dependent on its chief for electoral success. There are two visible limitations of the MNS seen in the past seven years - one is its weak ground network, which is with the Sena, and no other visible leaders apart from Raj. Whenever MNS gets into a firefighting situation, Raj has to rush and save the party.
"Raj is a long-term player and with time he will need to make changes in his party. Apart from working on his weaknesses, one cannot rule out that he might have a clandestine understanding with the NCP and Congress over seats in the state elections," said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.