Perhaps the only aspect working for Raj Thackeray in the present situation is his stated willingness to change his stand.Hurling a scornful attack on the BJP-led NDA government, Raj called for Opposition unity and a “Modi-Mukt Bharat” by 2019. I was not surprised, as I have always seen him as a confused politician; earlier he was too much influenced by Balasaheb Thackeray and now by Sharad Pawar. While addressing his party workers, he said that the country is fed up with the false promises made by Modi and his government, while reminding the audience of the BJP’s “Congress-Mukt Bharat” slogan. The MNS supremo was very bold and harsh as usual while attacking BJP and its ministers. He was trying hard to expose the ruling party, but the problem is, MNS workers and Raj supporters assemble in large numbersin his rallies but they never render votes to him. Perhaps, this is the reason the existence of his party has shrunk miserably.
Now, in a desperate image makeover exercise, Raj Thackeray has adopted two things that were never part of his life before. He wakes up early and sweats it out in the gym for at least half an hour. He has removed the “spiritual” rings from his right hand. However, he will have to do a lot more to win over the public and overcome the trust deficit. With six out of its seven corporators defecting to the Shiv Sena, MNS has suffered a major setback in the 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 one from 13 in 2009. Ever since Raj Thackeray formed MNS 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 the 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. Many accused his wife for foul play, she has many demands, and whosoever fulfils them, earns her goodwill; the rest has to struggle for their existence in spite of their largest contribution in building the party at grassroot level. This is the reason, all those who joined him unconditionally quitting ShivSena, returned in the old camp by leaving Raj and his party. The series of defeats and defections is now being regarded as the 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. Obviously, the success or failure of such a party depends on how the leader performs.
Raj tried to establish his unseasoned 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! No one is here to match with Balasaheb’s leadership, charm and smartness. Neither Uddhav nor Raj could fill the vacuum. Though people had great expectations from Raj because his oratory matches with his uncle, but later on his supporters realised that the empty speeches are not enough to survive in the political battlefield. He failed to deliver the issues that he took up for the sons of the soil. His double standards sabotaged him in the long run. His party could not capitalise much on the support it got from 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 plea. They flew with Modi waves leaving Raj Thackeray to his fate. However, the difference between other parties and the MNS is that the party is taking too much time to get ready for a competition.
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 body polls that were held in late 2016 and early 2017. What the leadership did was probably not enough or did not click with the voters. While Shiv Sena and BJP dominated the campaign space, the people did not see the MNS as a serious player. 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 inspite of doing good amount of developmental works there and was reduced to single digits in Mumbai and Pune civic bodies. After the enormous success he got in 2009, Raj did not follow it up with planned attempt to build his party organisation 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 that MNS was not a serious player in any of the major civic bodies. The ZillaParishad polls showed that 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?
(This is the first part of the editorial and remaining portion will continue tomorrow.)
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