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Big win for Raj Thackeray but enough to revive fortunes?

Analysts feel CM Fadnavis ceding to MNS chief’s demands over the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil controversy a tactic by the BJP to corner the Shiv Sena ahead of the 2017 civic polls

mumbai Updated: Oct 23, 2016 00:35 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,Ae Dil Hai Mushkil controversy,Pakistani actors in Bollywood
MNS chief Raj Thackeray address the media at his Dadar residence in Mumbai on Saturday.(Kunal Patil/HT photo)

Has Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Chief Raj Thackeray scored a big win with Bollywood producers bowing to his diktat and even the chief minister of the state mediating between him and the film producers to ensure the release of Karan Johar’s movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil , which features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan?

The developments that took place on Saturday morning took many by surprise as the threat to ransack multiplexes by the MNS did not seem as serious. In fact, the Mumbai police had already undertaken preparations to pre-empt any violent protests by the party.

Read: ‘Ae Dil...’ gets green signal, but B-Town bows to Raj over Rs 5-crore ‘penance’

Political analysts were also not giving too much significance to MNS’ stand because Raj Thackeray’s threats in the recent past just remained threats as the MNS cadre was not keen on creating trouble on streets when the party was not doing well politically. In this backdrop, Thackeray managed to score well by sending the message that his party was still a strong force in Mumbai and even the chief minister of the state has to mollycoddle him instead of dealing with his threats sternly.

Though there is no more question mark over the release of the film after the producers accepted all three demands, the entire episode has helped the MNS raise its importance on the political arena. All the three demands--ban on the Pak artistes, donation to the army welfare fund and tribute to the martyrs before the screening of the films- were made by the MNS and the state government appeared to have played the role of a mute spectator. Rather it has endorsed the ‘unconstitutional way’ settling the issues.

Analysts, however, see more politics than governance as the reason behind what Fadnavis did.

By convening a meeting of the film producers with Thackeray to find a solution at his official residence, Fadnavis has killed two birds in one stone. He manage to broker peace ahead of Diwali by ensuing smooth release of the Karan Johar’s film and also allowed the MNS to gain political mileage out of the controversy.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s ‘victory’ over the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil release comes at the envy of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s decade-old partner Shiv Sena. The episode has also highlighted the rising hobnobbing between the BJP and the MNS in the state over the past couple of years and more importantly when the crucial Mumbai civic polls are just three months away. Analysts feel it to be a deliberate attempt by the Fadnavis as his party has been attempting to cut its ally Shiv Sena to size. Both Sena and MNS share the same voter base---Marathi manoos in Mumbai. If Raj Thackeray’s party eats into Sena’s Marathi vote share, BJP will find it easy to outsmart its partner in the civic polls. Encouraged by its success in the assembly elections, the BJP is trying to win the cash reach Mumbai civic body on its own. BJP has also realised that Shiv Sena’s loss is its gain as both share almost similar pattern on vote bank and political agenda.

“MNS has successfully hi-jacked Shiv Sena’s decades- old agenda of so-called patriotism by appearing to have won the battle against the film producers. The party, which has been witnessing an all-time low in its election performances ever since it was formed ten years ago, has definitely got a political boost. It remains to be seen if this will help it in the forthcoming election, but the fact that the BJP is helping the MNS corner the Shiv Sena has been established,” said a Shiv Sena leader on the condition of anonymity.

In the 1960s, Shiv Sena was sarcastically called as Vasant Sena as the then Congress chief minister Vasantrao Naik used to give tacit support to then fledgling Shiv Sena in a bid to crush powerful labour unions led by communists in Mumbai. On the similar lines, BJP may use MNS to keep its ally Sena in check.

“The BJP will not hesitate to join hands with MNS, if the ruling partners fall off in the ensuing BMC elections and decide to fight the elections independently. Raj Thackeray has always kept a window open by maintaining cordial relations with the CM and prime minister Narendra Modi,” said political analyst Hemant Desai.

The observers also point frequent meetings between Fadnavis and Raj and the latter’s attempt to grab the credit on important issues including that of NEET among others. They also cite the example of elections of Kalyan Dombivali municipal corporation held last year, saying that the MNS had indirectly supported BJP who was fighting against the Shiv Sena. BJP gained stupendously over its previous tally of the corporators in the civic body which is just 50-km away from Mumbai.

Interestingly, BJP-led government ensured the release of the Pakistani author Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book smoothly after Shiv Sena opposed the release last October. But this time around, instead of providing the protection and cracking down on the threats by MNS, the Fadnavis government allowed Raj Thackeray party to gain political mileage.

In the past too, when the Shiv Sena had opposed Shahrukh Khan-starrer My Name Is Khan in 2010, the then Congress government in Maharashtra had provided police protection to the theatres and ensured a safe release of the film.

Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik has said that MNS’s engine (its poll symbol) is fuelled by the BJP and endorsing the hidden pact between the two parties.

However, it is still not clear whether MNS can benefit from the mileage it got from the controversy. The party is in bad shape since 2006 when it was formed. Riding on the support it received from Maharashtrian middle class after its anti-north Indian violent agitations, it won 13 assembly seats in 2009 elections. However, its tally reduced to one seat in 2014 assembly seats. Raj is struggling to keep his flock together as prominent local leaders of his party are crossing over to the BJP and the Sena for better options. Will the film episode help him revive the fortunes of the MNS?

First Published: Oct 23, 2016 00:35 IST