MNS’ Raj Thackeray turns 49, stares at bleak future in Maharashtra politics
Mumbai city news: Once considered a charismatic leader, Thackeray is passing through what can be called the worst phase in his political career.Updated: Jun 14, 2017 20:13 IST
As Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray turns 49 on Wednesday, he is staring at a bleak political future, with questions being raised over his ability to resurrect his party and keep himself relevant in Maharashtra politics.
With just one legislator in the Maharashtra assembly and the loss of power in the Nashik municipal corporation (the first civic body he ruled), Thackeray is facing one of the most challenging times, as top leaders along with their supporters have deserted the MNS following poor performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Once considered a charismatic leader who managed to get considerable following with his parochial politics, he is now passing through what can be called the worst phase in his political career.
While political pundits describe him as a political nuisance without any vision, both Thackeray as well as his supporters describe their current plight as a temporary setback.
The mood among the MNS cadre is dismal.
Many MNS party workers lament that Thackeray’s inaccessibility as well as lack of direction to the party led to its downfall. “It is unfortunate that Rajsaheb attends film functions and inaugurates fancy places, but has no time to inaugurate MNS offices,” said an MNS office bearer, who refused to come on record. “There are so many issues where we could have taken to the streets and connected with the people, but we are never given any directions at all,” he added.
A senior MNS leader says that the second line of leadership has been ineffective. “Our top leaders are busy fighting among themselves and installing their loyalists at the ward level,” rued the leader. “The entire focus of these local leaders is to extort money instead of strengthening the party. How can the party grow with this attitude?” he added.
They both feel that Thackeray has not been able to rise to the occasion despite the aggressive allies BJP and Shiv Sena attacking each other, and the opportunity for a new opposition party, since Congress-NCP are yet to play the role of an effective Opposition.
The nephew of Shiv Sena founder, late Bal Thackeray, Raj was groomed by the former as his political heir, but later preferred his son Uddhav to lead the party. Angry, Raj floated his own party in 2006 and adopted the sons of the soil agenda, which was his uncle’s USP. The MNS raised the issue of unemployment among Maharashtrian youths and blamed the ‘outsiders’—mostly migrant north Indians—for the same. Following Raj’s tirade, MNS workers beat up north Indian hawkers and cab drivers. While Raj faced several police cases for inciting violence and was even arrested, his popularity grew in certain sections on the Mumbai-Pune-Nashik belt. It had such a strong impact that the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance lost a large chunk of seats due to the MNS in the 2009 assembly polls and Congress-NCP returned to power for the third time. The MNS won 13 assembly seats and ate into the votes of the Sena-BJP in more than double the number of seats. However, Raj could not build on the early gains. Failure to build a strong party across the state, and lack of second-run leadership badly affected the party. Raj’s indecisiveness on various issues further affected its image. The Modi wave of 2014 hurt the party’s prospects, and the MNS is yet to recover from the same.
The MNS is currently in bad shape as its tally in the Mumbai civic polls dipped to just seven corporators from 28 in the previous term, while the number of legislators in the Maharashtra assembly has now been reduced to one from 13 in 2009. The Nashik Municipal Corporation, where the MNS was in power with 40 seats, has now come down to a measly three. In the introspection meeting held after elections, MNS leaders wanted Thackeray to dump the ‘Marathi Manoos’ agenda and woo other communities as well. However, Raj refused to heed the advise, and stressed that he was dedicated to the son of soil cause.
On occasion of the party’s 11th anniversary on March 9, Thackeray said that he would henceforth shed his inaccessibility and take to the streets.
Political analysts blame Raj for this impasse, saying he lacks political imagination. “He squandered an excellent opportunity he got in 2009, and reduced himself to just a nuisance. Even now, we are not seeing any concrete efforts to revive MNS,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
However, MNS leaders call it a ‘temporary failure’. “Every party has to go through a low phase. However, we will bounce back in the 2019 elections,” insisted MNS leader Nitin Sardesai.