By Rahul Dixit:
Raj Thackeray’s acerbic jibes against the Prime Minister is a tectonic shift in his earlier stand when he was all praise for Modi. In fact, Thackeray was the first politician from Maharashtra to endorse the Gujarat model of development under Modi and sought its replication in the State. The U-turn is an effort to stay relevant in electoral politics even if it means turning into a Modi-basher.
ARMED with video clips, files and bunch of papers Raj Thackeray is hopping from town to town in Maharashtra, appealing massive crowds to bring down the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government. He does not have a manifesto. He does not need one. Neither Thackeray nor his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) are contesting the Lok Sabha elections. But he has an agenda — of bashing PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah. For all its entertainment value Thackeray’s path is also a recipe for political disaster — his own.
Thackeray’s peculiar election campaign does not support any Congress-Nationalist Congress Party candidate. It only talks of defeating Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance. The animated discourse is attracting eyeballs and scorn from political leaders and analysts in equal measure. From hilarious memes to caustic comments of being a politician on hire, Raj Thackeray is garnering attention in traditional and social media. It is a desperate gamble that the MNS chief had to take. But will it pay off in the Assembly elections later in the year? Thackeray’s acerbic jibes against the Prime Minister is a tectonic shift in his earlier stand when he was all praise for Modi. In fact, Thackeray was the first politician from Maharashtra to endorse the Gujarat model of development under Modi and sought its replication in the State. The U-turn is an effort to stay relevant in electoral politics even if it means turning into a Modi-basher.
The political discourse in this election season is based fully on pro-Modi and anti-Modi narratives. The MNS had no option but to take the latter narrative after Shiv Sena predictably went with the BJP for an electoral alliance. With his party’s calamitous performance in the State, Thackeray had no space left to make himself count among the top parties in Maharashtra. Tie-up with either NCP or Congress, too, was fraught with dangers of losing remaining mass base. Despite NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s willingness to join hands with MNS, the Congress ditched the idea given Thackeray’s stand on north Indians and Muslims. A long hiatus in the most-interesting election season would have been totally detrimental for the already demoralised MNS cadre.
Thackeray has taken the now-popular line of Modi-bashing to revitalise his workers and keep them interested for Assembly elections. On the face of it, the dirty rancour against the Prime Minister may look amusing to some, but it has a limited shelf-life. The MNS chief does have the capacity to attract huge crowds with his oratorical skills but the stark truth is he has never been able to convert this response into large chunk of votes. A lot many factors go into MNS electoral failure after it was founded in March 2006. Thackeray’s start was aggressive, on the lines of uncle Balasaheb Thackeray and with pointed arguments like grandfather Prabodhankar Thackeray. MNS stood up as a healthy rival to Shiv Sena on the back of aggressive campaigns for Marathi signboards in Mumbai and protest against non-Marathi recruits in Railways examination.
Within three years, MNS had 13 Assembly seats in the 2009 elections in Maharashtra. It was the fourth largest party in State. But the MNS floundered soon as Thackeray failed to walk the talk and deliver his promise. Despite full majority in Nashik civic body, the party miserably failed to create electoral base. It is seen as a major embarrassment in State politics. Another grave misjudgment that led to MNS’ decline was the volte-face in the anti-toll tax agitation in Mumbai. It remains a sore point for Mumbaikars, who accuse Raj Thackeray of reneging on his promise at the most crucial moment. Since then, MNS has steadily withered in Maharashtra. In the 2014 Assembly elections, it was badly trounced, winning only one seat across the State. A record number of 203 MNS candidates lost their deposit. In the BMC elections, from 28 seats in 2012, Thackeray’s party was reduced to just seven.
Of these, six defected to Shiv Sena in 2018. In March this year, MNS’ only MLA joined the Shiv Sena. While his cousin Uddhav, often termed as a wrong choice to lead Sena, has played his political cards really well to get a super bargain in seat-sharing, Raj has seen a massive decline in his acceptance among Marathi voters despite all his aggressive traits. The impending political disaster has now forced Thackeray to tone down his rhetoric against north Indians. He also addressed one rally in Hindi. Such a climbdown is clear pointer of the debacle in the offing despite the latest gamble. The Raj Thackeray story is one of waywardness and self-destruction, to say the least and in most sober terms. From strength to weakness has been his downward trajectory, despite his good attributes that won him applause as a possible heir to the legendary Balasaheb Thackeray. There also were many who sympathised with Raj Thackeray then.
Subsequent train of events, however, proved that the Shiv Sena founder was a great guesser of men and chose not to hand over the mantle to his nephew and chose his own son. The son might not have proved even a patch on the father, but the nephew has proved disastrous — which the old man knew even then.