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Raj Thackeray turns 50, can he resurrect MNS?  

After its spectacular performance in the 2009 polls, the MNS has been reduced to a minor force and its workers are demoralised

mumbai Updated: Jun 15, 2018 01:14 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Raj Thackeray,MNS
Well-wishers of MNS chief Raj Thackeray greet him at his residence in Mumbai on Thursday.(ANSHUMAN POYREKAR/HT PHOTO)

As Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray turns 50 on Thursday, the next year -- 2019, which will witness both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections, will prove crucial to both him as well as the future of the party.

The moot question is whether Raj be able to resurrect his political career as well as revive his party, which is now reduced to a minor force and whose workers remain demoralised. The 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly along with the 2017 civic polls proved to be a massive downslide for the MNS.

In the backdrop of the discontent among the citizens over the exorbitant increase in petrol prices, MNS workers on the occasion of Raj’s birthday gave discount’on petrol in the range of Rs4-Rs9 in 36 constituencies across the city. This ‘discount’ for two-wheelers attracted citizens and this resulted in a massive rush at these petrol pumps. The MNS bore the difference in cost.

Raj also cut a cake that was in the shape of an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). A message on the cake was a sarcastic jibe on how EVMs were being used to promote ‘fair and transparent voting’. Raj had done something similar during his birthday in 2016, when he cut a cake with All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s (AIMIM ) face on it. Prior to the incident, Raj had been highly critical of the Owaisi brothers.

However, political analysts doubt that reviving the MNS, which is now at its lowest ebb, will be easy for its chief. They blame Raj for the slide in popularity of the party, which recorded a spectacular performance in the 2009 polls. “He was not able to build a strong organisational network unlike his mentor and uncle Bal Thackeray (founder of Shiv Sena). Everything in the MNS revolves around Raj Thackeray and he has not been able to create a second line of leadership,” said political commentator Prakash Bal. Similar is the contention of political expert Surendra Jondhale, who said people have lost trust in Raj Thackeray. “People no longer trust Raj as he has not been to deliver results after his 2009 polls success. There is no concerted effort by Raj to reinvent MNS as the son-of-the-soil agenda no longer appeals to the voters. The MNS workers are confused as they are not getting proper signals from Raj,” said Jondhale.

The extent of the MNS’ slide can be judged from the fact that the party, which bagged 13 seats in the state assembly polls in 2009, was reduced to just 1 in the 2014 elections. In addition, in the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, the MNS was reduced to 7 seats from the 28 it had bagged five years earlier. Now that figure has come down to 1 as six corporators defected to the Sena.

In recent months, Raj has once again become active and has become a bitter critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and especially of Prime Mininster Narendra Modi. In his annual Gudi Padwa rally, he gave a clarion call for “Modi-mukt Bharat” (Modi-free India) and appealed to like-minded parties to forge a united opposition against the BJP for the 2019 election. He is also now touring Maharashtra in phases, trying to revive the MNS.

However the MNS remains optimistic of its future and asserts that Raj remains an important factor in Maharashtra politics. “The Maharashtra tour is a resounding success and the ground reality is changing in favour of MNS. Rajsaheb is working very hard and we are seeing results,” said MNS leader Shalini Thackeray. “In the current scenario, all political parties have failed the people and the MNS remains a very attractive alternative for them,” she added.

Raj was once a top leader in the Shiv Sena, groomed by Bal Thackeray as his heir apparent. However, problems began when Bal Thackeray’s son, Uddhav, started asserting his hold on the Sena and marginalising Raj. In 2005, Raj quit the Sena and the very next year, formed his own party, MNS. Though his 2007 civic polls debut was a disaster, Raj gained strength in 2008 by aggressively pursuing the son-of-the-soil agenda, as his party men targeted north Indians and blamed them for the woes faced by Maharashtrians in the city. This paid rich dividends in the 2009 polls and Raj became a figure to reckon with.

First Published: Jun 15, 2018 01:14 IST