Sometimes, politicians bounce back when they are pushed to the corner. MNS is down but not completely out yet. Its revival will depend on Raj Thackeray himself. Uddhav Thackeray came back with a new dynamism after Chhagan Bhujbal walked out of the party with a large chunk of MLAs in 1990-91. Within four to five years, it came to power in Maharashtra. Raj will be able to replicate the feat accomplished by his guru and uncle but for that he will have to take extraordinary efforts. The MNS supremo will have to pull up his socks and travel across the state by connecting all lost dots. The journey won’t be easy and the efforts needed are remarkable. Raj needs to find out what people actually expected from his party and where he lost it. He can bounce back, and he possesses that potential.
But Raj should understand that MNS needs to find 288 candidates to contest all the seats. Secondly, Raj and his party workers cannot shy away from the fact that all their candidates not only lost the last assembly election, but almost everyone forfeited their deposits too. Thackeray is trying to reinvent himself and his fading party at a time when the opposition space is occupied by none other than his archrival, Shiv Sena. But political observers believe that Raj may not succeed in what he is eyeing to achieve because he has woken up very late. The September 29 stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road railway station gave Thackeray another opportunity to bounce back in politics. He led a march to the Western Railway’s headquarters, ordered his party workers to drive away illegal hawkers within 150 metres of a railway station, and tried to reoccupy a space in the hearts of Mumbaikars, like he had a decade ago. But soon this drive too landed in cold storage and Mumbai roads are once again overcrowded with hawkers. Like all his other “drives”, the outburst against illegal hawkers also has a potential to win over Mumbaikars. But his low credibility and the weak party organisation are obstacles in Raj ruling the city’s streets again.
The release of the new Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) anthem at Shivaji Mandir auditorium on February 3 had party men tapping their feet to the catchy number. But Raj Thackeray was clearly not amused. It portrays him as a good leader who has been isolated and jeered by rivals despite devotion towards his people. The lyrics describe a leader who is trying to regain the backing of his followers at a time when his relevance to Maharashtra’s contemporary politics is under question. The MNS song is painfully close to the truth. But no one can deny the fact that Raj is himself responsible for the sorry situation he finds himself in. Not only in lingering aloof without maintaining regular contact with party cadre, they also pointed to his failure to engage workers in issue-based political activities that could have expanded the outfit.
Raj changes his mind very often, never sticks to what he says. Such flip-flops have been terrible for the morale of the MNS cadre. When Raj realised his mistake, it was too late to gain the command. Later on, he attempted to galvanise supporters via the all-too-familiar tactic of Pakistan-bashing. He called for protest demonstrations against the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Raees, two big-budget Bollywood movies featuring Pakistani actors. At the same time, he supported some movies and that really surprised people of Maharashtra.
Anyway, Raj needs to come back in his elements and boost the confidence of his party workers by assuring them success in next elections. If this time MNS workers see him as “failing to stay firm”, it would be really difficult for him to grip his roots. Party workers also complain that their leader is “obsessively given to superstition”, evidenced in his repeatedly flipping MNS’ steam engine poll symbol in the hope that it will bring in votes. Only days before 2012 BMC polls, the right-pointing locomotive was inverted to look left-pointing, but the party took a measly 27 of the 227 seats in the corporation. Raj believes it was a huge success as no other party had won so many seats in its first election right after the foundation. He then decided otherwise and the symbol was flipped back.
In the year 2012, Bal Thackeray died and there was again a fallout between Raj and Uddhav. Raj fell for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Nitin Gadkari’s wooing. Gadkari knew that if the MNS cooperated with the BJP, then it could eat into Sena votes and ensure that it did not win seats. The BJP wanted to ditch the Sena and partner with MNS.
Voters were unhappy with the MNS. The party forgot to do its political homework. It had no long-term plan. Initially, Raj touched on a raw nerve as he raised the toll tax. Like all his campaigns, after the initial noise and a lot of violence, Raj disappeared into his Mumbai home and did not take the initiative forward.
Then came the secret pact with the BJP and Raj saw a bright political future. But in his greed for personal power, the voters dumped him! What hurt more was that the BJP also deserted him. For the assembly election, the BJP made it clear that it wanted the Shiv Sena. MNS cadre lost all morale and confidence. After the Lok Sabha election debacle, Raj and his coterie went into a shell, shocked beyond disbelief. People seemed to have made their choice. But one needs to remember that the Marathi manoos were testing both leaders. They gave Uddhav time after his father Bal Thackeray’s death. Raj fell out with his uncle over the dynasty politics issue. He was the nephew and Thackeray chose his son as his political heir. The parting was bitter and acrimonious.
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