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Pawar-Raj bonhomie: Will it make an impact?

Most NCP leaders are unaware of an alliance move but everybody knows Pawar is upto something

mumbai Updated: Mar 20, 2018 11:30 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Since Raj floated the MNS in 2006, the party has seen ups and downs so far—mostly downs since its rout in 2014 elections.
Since Raj floated the MNS in 2006, the party has seen ups and downs so far—mostly downs since its rout in 2014 elections.(HT FILE)

With the political atmosphere heating up nationally, effect is seen in Maharashtra as well.

Top politicians from the state especially Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar have become very busy in anticipation of an early general election later this year. The victory of Samajwadi Party candidates in Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha bypolls with the help of Bahujan Samaj Party has excited the opposition parties in Maharashtra. In next few months, the political parties will try different permutations and combinations in search of a successful formula to win election. One such possibility has become a talking point in political circles as the sudden bonhomie between Pawar and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray is visible for past few days. Speculations over a NCP-MNS tie-up began with the duo appearing together at public function in Pune on February 21 in which Raj took a public interview of Pawar who described the former as a leader with large following among the youths. Pawar also raised concern over future of Marathi manoos in Mumbai and its neighbourhood—a favourite theme of the MNS. A day before his Gudhi Padwa rally on Sunday, the MNS chief made it a point to call on Pawar at the latter’s Mumbai residence. The half an hour meeting between the duo immediately led to speculations that an alliance was in the making.

Most NCP leaders are unaware of any such move but everybody knows Pawar is upto something. Will it be an NCP-MNS alliance or a tacit understanding or just an effort to send a message to some others is not clear at this juncture, they say.

Theoretically, such an alliance is possible because both parties are Maharashtra-based and unlike Congress, the NCP is not worried about losing votes of North Indians whom Thackeray targets. The MNS has influence in Mumbai and neighbouring area where the NCP has limited presence. The two parties can gain in cities like Pune and Nashik by staying together. However, will Congress allow the MNS to join its coalition? Leaders from both NCP and MNS suggest that there is possibility of the two parties working out an alliance or understanding for seats in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. As such, it won’t be a direct alliance with the Congress but the NCP, they point out.

In Maharashtra, the Mumbai-Pune-Nashik urban belt is significant—not just economically but even politically. About 10 to 15 Lok Sabha seats and 65 to 70 assembly seats fall in this urban area. The NCP and MNS could be looking at helping each other win more votes in this area.

But the question is: Does Raj Thackeray still matter?

Since Raj floated the MNS in 2006, the party has seen ups and downs so far—mostly downs since its rout in 2014 elections. The elections in 2009 and in 2014 were a picture in contrast for the party. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it did not win any seat but bagged 4.07% of the votes polled in the state. Six months later, it improved the same to 5.71% in assembly elections and won 13 seats. Though its poll percentage does not seem much, its influence was limited to Mumbai, its neighbourhood, Pune and Nashik where it made an impact on the outcome of the polls. It led to serious setback for the Sena-BJP alliance in their bid to wrest power from the Congress-NCP. The Modi wave in 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw the vote share of the MNS dwindling to 1.47%. The party managed to gain a bit in assembly elections even as all four main parties contested separately. It got 3.15% votes but could win only one seat. The MNS now has one legislator in state assembly and one councilor in Mumbai civic body. It has become irrelevant in civic bodies of cities like Pune and Nashik where it had made significant gains earlier.

The only solace for the party is that Raj is still popular among Marathi youths. He still draws crowds wherever he addresses rallies—he is one of the very few good orators in the state. In past one year, he has tried to rebuild his broken organization. If he manages to strike a chord with his core supporters, things may change for him. Will that happen? It remains to be seen. If that happens, it will also make an impact on the outcome of next assembly results in the state.