“Don’t jump the signal. It doesn’t matter if we are a little late,” Raj Thackeray tells his friend, a Puneiite, who is driving the former’s Land Rover on the way to a campaign meeting in Shivaji Nagar. “Is it a fashion here to jump signals?” he quips.
Clad in a white shirt and maroon sleeveless sweater, Raj keeps checking his cellphone for text messages and missed calls.
Once at the venue, the fit 41-year-old energetically hops on to the stage and takes charge. He begins with a dig at the Congress.
“I heard Rahul Gandhi was here today. I must commend him for his courage,” he says as the crowd roars with laughter. “For a bunch of people who did nothing in the last 10 years, it takes a lot of guts to come here and seek votes.”
The next 20 minutes are dedicated to attacking the government and the Shiv Sena. He concludes with his favourite subject: the Marathi manoos.
Referring to Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam’s statement that north Indians want 35 seats in Maharashtra, he says, “This is an indication of things to come. You are losing your might to migrants. Watch my words.”
Back in the gleaming SUV, happy with himself, Raj lights a cigarette and rolls the window down.
The car stops at a traffic light. A couple of youngsters rush to greet him. He smiles and shakes hands with them.
The policemen who accompanied him earlier are missing. “It’s been a year the government withdrew my security but I don’t care,” he says.
This is his first Assembly election since he formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in 2006.
After the Lok Sabha elections where his candidates led in nine assembly segments, expectations from his supporters are high. And so is Raj’s enthusiasm level.
The next stop is Raman Baug in Kasba Peth constituency. Here, the response of the crowd is even better because the audience comprises mostly youngsters.
So, Raj chooses an issue dear to them. He speaks about the lack of opportunities for them in the city’s colleges as well as jobs available locally.
The performance is repeated in the third rally at Kothrud, a typical Maharashtrian stronghold where the crowd is bigger.
By the time the Kothrud rally ends it is 10 pm. “It was a good day. I am happy with the response,” Raj says as his convoy heads for Mumbai.