Raj Thackeray’s local politics and BJP’s national ambitions

All politics is, ultimately, local. This axiom was brought home in the last few days as the BJP’s endeavour to win the maximum number of Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats was threatened by the Thackeray family-turned-political feud.

columns Updated: Mar 11, 2014 23:27 IST
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena,MNS,Raj Thackeray

All politics is, ultimately, local. This axiom was brought home in the last few days as the Bharatiya Janata Party's endeavour to win the maximum number of Maharashtra's 48 Lok Sabha seats was threatened by the Thackeray family-turned-political feud. To prevent the division of votes that the saffron parties get, BJP's top leaders had been privately and publically cajoling Raj Thackeray to take an election holiday.

Raj has played a double game in declaring support to BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi but also announcing candidates of his party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, against BJP's ally Shiv Sena.

If his candidates amass votes in the region of a lakh each, they could ensure the defeat of Sena candidates in those 6 or 7 constituencies, as happened in the 2009 general election. This means fewer seats to this extent in Modi's march to his "Mission 272". These confabulations tell us as much about Raj as about the BJP.

Raj's obstinacy has little to do with issues of public interest, ideological convictions or love of electoral politics; it emanates from and continues to be centred on his hatred of cousin, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Raj's politics is about the two of them and their deep-seated fraternal rivalry than a disagreement with Uddhav's ideas and visions. Essentially, they are two strands of a single thread: focussed on Maharashtra/Mumbai, agitational and aggressive in nature, heroics of the lumpen elements, party centred around a personality, and so on.

The BJP has attempted several times, in the last five years, to combine the winning strengths of the two cousins - with little result. As the BJP and MNS joined forces to preside over the Nashik Municipal Corporation, Uddhav was not amused but looked the other way. The local-level alliance could not be a model for the state. The Shiv Sena-BJP-MNS matrix will be clearer in the days to come but it could be more of the same old stuff.

Political re-alignments are exciting when they mean something new or offer innovative ideas for their constituencies, such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. Despite its obvious shortcomings and ideology of convenience, it altered the political architecture and agenda in that city, in a way that MNS had not managed to do in Mumbai nine years ago when Raj launched the party. It's odd that Uddhav should have compared Raj with Arvind Kejriwal today. They could not be more dis-similar.

Kejriwal had a background of activism, both street-level and conference-room variety; he and his colleagues had engaged with the average citizen's issues of water and electricity; he had built an eco-system of support with his activism on Right to Information; he was willing to slug it out on the streets.

Of course, he needlessly over-did his street activism during his tenure as Delhi's chief minister. It's another matter that Kejriwal's colleagues in Mumbai do not have that kind of an organic connect with the city's issues; the sole exception is AAP candidate Medha Patkar, but then she is not so much AAP as her own person.

Raj took up the issue of over-charging at toll booths but appeared to abandon the agitation mid-way. His other favourite local issue - migrants in Mumbai - has turned his party into a parochial unit and threatened to make Mumbai look like a provincial place. Raj Thackeray and Arvind Kejriwal are not alike, not even in their political alignments, as Uddhav may have suggested. Kejriwal appears to have grasped the meaning of the axiom that all politics is, ultimately, local in a way that Raj has not been able to.

The BJP, in its rush to secure the maximum seats in Maharashtra with Raj's help, has ignored an inherent contradiction: in cosying up to Raj despite his public antagonism towards north Indians, it may end up rubbing its core constituency in north India the wrong way.

The Raj-Uddhav paradox seems minor compared to this one. Modi and Raj may have formed a mutual admiration society, but BJP stalwarts don't necessarily see Raj in a kind light. And, using the Modi mask does nothing for Raj's brand of local politics other than paint him in the Hindutva colour too.

First Published: Mar 11, 2014 23:20 IST