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Is Raj doing now what Bal Thackeray did in 1980?

Without contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Raj Thackeray took political centre-stage and became the main talking point in Maharashtra, which went to the polls in the first four phases.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 03, 2019 08:02 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Bal Thackeray,Raj Thackeray,MNS
Not only his oratory, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has also adopted his late uncle and Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s style of politics.(HT File Photo)

Not only his oratory, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has also adopted his late uncle and Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s style of politics.

Without contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Raj Thackeray took political centre-stage and became the main talking point in Maharashtra, which went to the polls in the first four phases. When he decided against fielding MNS candidates, Raj Thackeray had clearly taken a leaf out of his late uncle’s book.

During the 1980 Lok Sabha elections, Balasaheb Thackeray, in a tactical move, decided against contesting and supported the Congress, then led by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The elections were necessitated by the fall of the Janata Party government, headed by Choudhary Charan Singh, before the completion of its term.

The Janata government, a coalition of several parties such as the Jana Sangh, Bharatiya Kranti Dal and the Congress (Organisation), had assumed power with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister after its victory in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, held soon after emergency was lifted.

Indira Gandhi had imposed a state of emergency in 1975 to control “internal disturbance”. It remained in force for 21 months, during which constitutional rights were suspended and freedom of expression withdrawn.

In the 1980 general elections, the Shiv Sena did not contest any seat and supported the Congress. Political observers had attributed the move to Balasaheb Thackeray’s personal rapport with then Maharashtra chief minister AR Antulay.

The Congress won the Lok Sabha polls and Indira Gandhi returned as Prime Minister.

Raj Thackeray has done exactly the same thing this election, replicating his late uncle’s strategy. And this time, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar is said to have played a key role in drafting in Raj Thackeray. He did not contest the elections but that did not stop him from campaigning against PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. He addressed rallies across Maharashtra.

The 1980 election was not the only time the Shiv Sena supported the Congress. In 2007 and 2013, it backed Congress’s Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee respectively for the President’s post.

His ‘e lava re video (play the video)’ became a rage with the crowd as he replayed clips of Modi’s speeches and poll promises in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He used audio visual presentations effectively, with big screens installed at venues, to pep up his speeches that were usually laced with sarcasm and had a dash of humour, too. Having become a thorn in the BJP’s flesh, the saffron party had failed to chalk out a strategy to counter him, much to the advantage of the Congress-NCP tie-up.

Though Raj Thackeray did not directly seek votes for either the Congress or the NCP, his comments against Modi and Shah left no room for any confusion.In his usual style, the MNS chief recently wondered at one of his rallies that if people could have experimented with Modi, why couldn’t they do the same with Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

Political analysts said Raj Thackeray sought to appropriate the legacy of his late uncle not only with his oratory skills but his unique style of campaigning, and even adopted his political strategy to stay relevant.

“I won’t rule him out as a mere crowdpuller. The BJP campaign has been based on image and perception – that of Modi – and Raj Thackeray has precisely punctured that. Once the image is cracked, then all local equations have a sort of fair play,” said Pune-based political analyst, Suhas Palshikar.

First Published: May 03, 2019 07:27 IST

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