How does one add value to one’s brand equity without diluting core values? That’s the question that the best minds in the business of politics — from L.K. Advani to Tony Blair — have grappled with in their careers. Now, it’s Raj Thackeray who’s conducting the experiment. Soon after forming his own Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS), Mr Thackeray unfurled his plan this weekend. The very visible departure from the Shiv Sena ideology is apparent by the very colours on the MNS flag — the familiar saffron of the other ‘Sena’, alongside the ‘Dalit/Republican Party’ blue and ‘Muslim’ green. His ‘plan of inclusion’ of reaching out to Dalits and Muslims was made crystal clear in his speech. For very practical reasons, he has avoided taking recourse to Balasaheb-style Muslim — and ‘outsider’ — bashing.
So what sets the MNS apart from the other ‘secular’ parties in Maharashtra? One, both party and leader are hoping to settle down in a cosy space currently unoccupied that has Maharashtra sub-nationalism as its credo. This has been a space that the Nationalist Congress Party has been trying to occupy and the Congress — with ex-Shiv Sainiks in its fold — trying to nudge into. But the NCP’s Sharad Pawar may be currently running his last real lap, while the likes of Narayan Rane can only help at the street-mohalla-level, rather than on the plane of party leadership.
It is a tricky space that Mr Thackeray intends to occupy. And his sophisticated gesture-politik — mirroring a 40 years younger Balasaheb — minus the communal bits could just make Mr Thackeray the force he wishes himself to be. And if pundits doubt his sincerity in appealing to all hues of the electorate, all we can say is: when did sincerity have anything to do with politics? All that counts are the gestures and their resulting effects. And that will be what makes the MNS and Mr Thackeray what they will be.