In his inaugural rally at Shivaji Park 10 years ago, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray spoke about the colours of his flag — the saffron, blue and green.
“People asked me, why I chose colours like blue and green in my flag. For many, these might mean that I am wooing different communities but I am not. The good people in each community will have to be taken along,” he had said.
On Friday, he made a U-Turn.
“The blue-saffron stands for Hindutva, and the green stands for APJ Abdul Kalam and AR Rahman. It doesn’t stand for the people of Bhendi Bazaar, Behrampada and Bhiwandi,” he said at the rally on Friday.
For 10 years, Thackeray had refused to take a hardline Hindutva stance, one that would jeopardise the backing of the Muslim community especially the youth that he had received. But, on Friday, Thackeray may have broken that unspoken rule of his own.
Political observers say that Thackeray is making a subtle, yet fundamental shift in his party’s strategy — from attacking Muslims, to aggressively wooing Dalits, to slamming the RSS for the first time and solely targeting the BJP and its tallest leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the hour-long speech, he barely mentioned his favourite bugbear-rival the Shiv Sena and cousin Uddhav.
Many insiders believe that this space might be Thackeray’s best bet to draw the MNS’s voters back ahead of the 2017 civic polls. Data from the 2014 Assembly polls had showed how erstwhile MNS strongholds saw strong voting for the BJP. Is this, then, Thackeray’s attempt at getting the voter who migrated to the BJP, back?
If Thackeray sticks to this, it will be an interesting departure from his rather-tested strategy of attacking the rival Shiv Sena and trying to draw out core Sena supporters to his side. This also leaves the window open for a post-poll tie up with the Sena, in the eventuality that the BJP and the Sena don’t fight polls together.
“Thackeray is probably trying to woo those voters who supported Modi but are probably disgruntled with his performance and may not want to back him again. Interestingly, by trying to take a hardline vis-à-vis Muslims and the RSS, he is trying to attract both categories of voters — one which cares about Hindutva and the other which doesn’t,” said Prakash Bal, journalist and political commentator.
Insiders believe that this probably is a safer bet to have, ahead of next year’s polls, rather than trying to whip up sentiments and draw back the core Sena sympathiser. “The general air is that of discontentment against the BJP. There is a sizeable section which voted for us in 2009 and then went to the BJP in 2014. This could be an effective way of getting that vote back,” said a city-based party leader.