Is the future tense for Raj Thackeray and his MNS?
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Is the future tense for Raj Thackeray and his MNS?

‘The series of defeats and defections is now being regarded as failure of Raj’s leadership.’

mumbai Updated: Oct 17, 2017 00:16 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Maharashtra Navnirman Sena,Shiv Sena
Raj Thackeray(HT FILE)

With six out of its seven corporators defecting to the Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has suffered a major setback in Mumbai city politics. In Mumbai civic house, the party now has a token presence like in the state assembly where its tally is reduced to 1 from 13 in 2009. Ever since Raj Thackeray formed the party in 2007, Mumbai has been the party’s base. Now, with its almost entire unit of elected representatives to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) walking over to arch rival Shiv Sena, questions are being raised over the future of the party in its base. So, is it beginning of the end for the MNS?

Many in the party are not surprised that its corporators decided to jump the ship. In fact, this has been happening in the MNS for quite some time. During and after the 2014 elections, a significant number of leaders quit the party to join either the Shiv Sena or the BJP. They included MNS leaders such as Pravin Darekar and Vasant Gite who were close to Raj. As such, it was not surprising that a bunch of corporators got swayed by the lure of greener pastures.

One man show

The series of defeats and defections is now being regarded as failure of Raj’s leadership. Just like the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the MNS too is a political party based on charisma of its leader. Naturally, the success or failure of such a party depends on how the leader performs.

Raj took a leaf out of his mentor and uncle Sena chief late Balasaheb Thackeray’s book as he tried to establish his fledgling political outfit. He raised the sons of the soil issue, targeted north Indians and used violence as a medium to grab attention. He succeeded to the extent of his party upsetting calculations of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance to win 2009 assembly polls. The MNS won 13 seats in its first assembly elections and emerged as a significant political force in the state. The similarity between Raj and his uncle however ended there.

The MNS could not capitalise much on the support it got among the voters. It did not go beyond the incidents of beating hapless north Indian hawkers and cabbies. There was no dearth of issues but the party was rarely seen raising the ones that would appeal a wider audience. Meanwhile, its core supporter, the young Maharashtrians in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik responded to Modi’s appeal.

Generic problems of the MNS

Raj’s close aides dismiss party’s defeats in 2014 as the fallout of Modi wave and point out that even other parties suffered setback. However, the difference between other parties and the MNS is that the party is taking too much time to get ready for a fight.

After 2014 rout, party workers were hoping that there would be an initiative by the leadership to rebuild the organisation, put forth an aggressive agenda before the people and undertake efforts to regain its lost ground in the civic polls that were held in late 2016 and early 2017. What was done by the leadership was probably not enough or did not click with the voter. While the Shiv Sena and BJP dominated the campaign space, the MNS was not seen as a serious player by the people. Further, it could not counter Sena’s allegations that the MNS was in the fray to divide Marathi votes. The party lost its power in Nashik civic body (though it did some developmental work there) and was reduced to single digits in Mumbai and Pune civic bodies.

The drubbing it received was also attributed to some generic problems in the MNS: Absence of organizational base across the state, no strong second rung leadership and lack of consistency.

After the enormous success he got in 2009, Raj did not follow it up with planned attempt to build party organization across the state. Today, even after almost a decade of its existence, the MNS has not been able to go beyond a few cities and districts of Maharashtra. The municipal elections showed the MNS was not a serious player in any of the major civic bodies. The Zilla Parishad polls showed it had little presence in rural areas. Little wonder, the party is not being taken seriously by its own leaders and workers. In that case, how will Raj convince the people to vote for him?

Days of the MNS are numbered?

Not necessary. The party is down but not out yet. Its revival will depend on Raj himself. Sometimes, politicians bounce back when they are pushed to the corner. Shiv Sena chief senior Thackeray came back with a new vigour after Chhagan Bhujbal walked out of the party with a large chunk of MLAs in 1990-91. Within 4-5 years, it won power in Maharashtra. Will Raj be able to do what his mentor and uncle achieved?

First Published: Oct 17, 2017 00:16 IST