2019 polls: Raj Thackeray and the battle for relevance

Raj has touched issues concerning the 'Marathi-manoos', and speaks like his late uncle and mentor, but his acceptance has diminished considerably if one goes by sheer political numbers. (Image courtesy ANI)

Twelve years after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was formed, the Raj Thackeray-led party is facing one of the biggest tests in its history.

After a promising start, the MNS is now reduced to being a spoiler that could damage the prospects of a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, but without winning too many seats of its own.

And its anti-North Indian migrant position means that the Congress regards it with deep suspicion, reducing its chances of being part of an Opposition 'Mahagathbandhan' (Grand Alliance).

This existential crisis comes at just the wrong time for the MNS, with the state hurtling towards both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections next year.

In 2006, when Raj walked out of the Shiv Sena, founded by his uncle Balasaheb Thackeray, following differences with his cousin Uddhav Thackeray, there were a lot of expectations from him.

Raj has touched issues concerning the 'Marathi-manoos', and speaks like his late uncle and mentor, but his acceptance has diminished considerably if one goes by sheer political numbers.

His inconsistency has not helped. In August 2011, he had undertaken a nine-day tour of Gujarat and admired the then chief minister Narendra Modi for his model of development, but after 2014, he has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The 2014 Maharashtra polls marked a point of no return for his uneasy relationship with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav and a political rapprochement between the cousins looks to be out of the question.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, though MNS did not win any seats, it damaged the prospects of the Sena-BJP saffron alliance in Mumbai; in the Assembly polls the MNS won just 11 of the 288 seats and hurt the Sena and the BJP in urban pockets.

In 2014, things got worse: the MNS could not win a single seat in the Lok Sabha polls but managed just one seat in the Assembly.

In the current political scenario, Raj does not have a political space in the saffron alliance. However, in the last couple of years, he has become close to NCP supremo and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar who wants him in the Grand Alliance in Maharashtra, but the Congress has its own reservations.

As a matter of fact, Raj's party took part in the Congress-led 'Bharat bandh' against the spiralling petrol and diesel prices, but the Rahul Gandhi-led party does not want to ally with them.

"We have a base in Maharashtra. It's true that we could not repeat the 2009 performance in 2014. But that does not mean we are written off. In the last two to three years, we have done a lot of groundwork in the state," said MNS vice-president Dr Vageesh Saraswat.

According to him, Raj was the first political leader outside the BJP to say that Modi should lead the country. "However, Modi and BJP have failed miserably. The problems in the country have compounded since Modi took over," he said.

However, political analyst and social activist Jatin Desai said that in the current political scenario, when the Congress and the NCP have decided to come together, and the BJP and the Shiv Sena are yet to forge an alliance, things are difficult for him. "The Congress would never accommodate him as it would mean damaging prospects in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, given the anti-North Indian migrants' stance of Raj," he added.

In the current scheme of things, Raj adds to the heat and dust of election season with his oratory and ability to speak the language of the masses, but his political potential seems to be limited.

 

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2019 polls: Raj Thackeray and the battle for relevance

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