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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Raj Thackeray changes tack amid political crisis

Raj Thackeray’s aggression and his unique style of campaigning specially crafted for the April-May Lok Sabha elections are missing in the state polls.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 16, 2019 10:17 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, Pune
From an aggressive campaigner to a subdued speaker, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has changed tack in five months.
From an aggressive campaigner to a subdued speaker, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has changed tack in five months.(PTI)
         

From an aggressive campaigner to a subdued speaker, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has changed tack in five months.

His aggression and his unique style of campaigning specially crafted for the April-May Lok Sabha elections are missing in the state polls. Though the MNS did not contest the national elections, Thackeray, 51, campaigned extensively against the Bharatiya Janata Party across the state.

Often described as uncle and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s real political heir due to his oratory skills and crowd-pulling capabilities, big screens installed at the venues helped the MNS chief to prop up his fiery speeches, laced with sarcasm and humour, with audio-visual presentations. His Lav Re Video (Play the Video) rallies had become a rage as he often showcased clips of PM Narendra Modi’s speeches and poll promises, along with on-ground footage in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, those crowds did not translate into votes for the opposition combine of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

After the elections, Thackeray blamed the electronic voting machines (EVMs) for the BJP’s mandate — the party won 23 Lok Sabha seats out of 48 in the state; its ally Shiv Sena won 18 — and even tried to persuade the Congress and the BJP to boycott the assembly elections till the Election Commission brought back ballot paper.

But NCP chief Sharad Pawar and the Congress both rejected his suggestion. During his visit to Delhi on July 8 — his first in 14 years — when he visited the EC office to demand that the Maharashtra assembly polls be held through ballot papers, he also called on United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss the EVM issue.

Last month, a reluctant Thackeray finally agreed to contest the state elections. The MNS is contesting 110 out of the total 288 seats in the state. He no longer attacks the Prime Minister, BJP president and Union home minister Amit Shah or Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. His ire is mainly directed at the two parties, the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

Change in strategy

Political analysts are of the view that Thackeray has come to terms with political reality. “Thackeray is facing a crisis. He is not directly connected with the people. He has realised that he cannot be a kingmaker or form the government on his own and talks in terms of sitting in the opposition,” said Prakash Pawar, head of the political sciences department, Shivaji University, Kolhapur.

Pawar said the Enforcement Directorate’s questioning of Thackeray in August, in connection with the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, has also affected the MNS chief.

“ED cannot silence me... Those who were worried with ED notices have already joined the BJP,” Thackeray however, had said at a rally in Mumbai last week. In the same rally, he asked for votes so that his party could form a strong opposition.

According to Mumbai-based political analyst Abhay Deshpande, Thackeray knows that the Congress will not include the MNS in an alliance because of the party’s purported hostility towards north Indians. “Besides, he cannot transfer his votes to the Congress and those go to the Shiv Sena. So, the Congress wants him to fight alone and get as many votes to cut into the Shiv Sena share,” he said.

“We haven’t formed any alliance with MNS in these elections. In fact, his stand against the people from other states will be harmful to us,” Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil told HT.