The rise of Raj Thackeray’s MNS changed the political scenario of Maharashtra. An analysis of the political dynamics of the state.

Raj Thackeray, the highly assertive supremo of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has recently told his followers to smash the toll booths across the Highways in Maharashtra and beat anyone asking for Toll Tax! He had reportedly said that… if anyone dares to ask for Toll Tax…then Phod Dena, Pitna etc. etc.  Raj had exhorted that, he was ready for any consequence, whatsoever, openly threatening Maharashtra’s highly maligned privately run road-construction companies.
Raj Thackeray 300x225 Raj Thackeray: The Marathi Manoos As A Congress, NCP Pop Up?
Allegedly, the ever enthusiastic party men fell on several toll booths across the State, beginning with the suburbs of Mumbai and Nagpur, severely damaging them and thrashing poor chaps manning the booths. Footage received by the media from the installed CCTV cameras has shown how MNS workers were barging on the Toll Booths! Many important roads have been built and developed across Maharashtra in the recent times, in the PPP Model, on BOT (Build Operate Transfer) mode. There are allegations of rampant corruption, nepotism and bribing in the process all along. Also it has been alleged that the operators of the roads are fudging their accounts, showing much lesser profits, only to retain the roads for long.

But vandalising the Toll Booths is a predominant Sena ritual, which MNS has taken up in a big way, in the recent times. Only in the last month, Shiv Sena members were alleged of vandalising Toll Booths, near Kolhapur, which has been widely reported in the local press. But, like many previous occasions of beating the North Indian hawkers, taxi  and auto drivers or the Railway Board examinees in Mumbai and elsewhere, the repeated barbs on the Biharis, the Congress-NCP alliance which is rulling the State has done very little or absolutely nothing to stop these abominable acts of vandalism! The rise of MNS vote share has helped Congress as well as NCP, cutting Shiv Sena –BJP alliance to size, during the 2009 Assembly Polls. So, in the advancing months before the Lok Sabha elections, none of the rulling parties just want to antagonise them, at any cost!


The Rise of MNS Raj

  Flag of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.svg 300x199 Raj Thackeray: The Marathi Manoos As A Congress, NCP Pop Up? Many years ago Raj was candid in an interview that Both Uddhav Thackeray and he had got into politics only to help Balasaheb. Neither of them entered with the thinking, ‘next, who?’  Raj accused media of pitting them against each other. But that was a long time back. The inevitable happened in 2006, when Balasaheb was alive and very much active. Raj left Shiv Sena and formed his own Party, irked by the growing influence of Uddhav in the Shiv Sena and Raj’s sheer disregard in Party’s ticket distribution. MNS was built to accomplish and propagate many of the ideals, on which Shiv Sena was formed in the 60s. Raj was sure by then, that Uddhav was shy enough and lesser dynamic to hold the mantle of his uncle Balasaheb. On the core belief of ‘Son of the Soil’ and Maharashtrian Asmita (Pride), he was set to gain the lost ground, which made Shiv Sena absent in the power centre in the State, for long. Years ago when he had just entered politics, Balasaheb heard Raj’s speech and said him, ‘Mudde chaangle ahet (the issues are really well-intentioned). Raj said, he had learnt it all from his uncle. He had always tried to emulate the legendary figure, even the way he spoke to people.As Balasaheb was growing old, Uddhav, though not that impressive and a big orator had definitely induced Raj to ponder that the future was not so easy in his uncle’s party. After Balasaheb, who? ‘Eka myaanet phakta ekach talwar rahte’ (Only a single sword fits into a scabbard), so what else he could have done!

MNS’s initial months began with clashes with Shiv Sainiks, vandalising posters and hoardings here and there. MNS offices had the pictures of Shivaji Maharaj and Balasaheb, but two more were added, the pictures of Raj Thackeray and Babasaheb Ambedkar. As the newest saviour of Marathi Manoos he had entered into the elections with his party’s tricolour flag and Shivaji Maharaj’s lifesize paintings, posing enough worries to the main opposition BJP -Shiv Sena alliance that was hoping to come back to power in the State after so many years!

Congress & Compliance

Many have left Shiv Sena, earlier. But none was comparable to Raj. Sanjay Nirupam joined Congress, knowing quite well that as a north Indian he was not fitting into the Shiv Sena hierarchy. When Shiv Sena appointed Manohar Joshi, as the leader of opposition, ignoring Chhagan Bhujbal, whom Balasaheb publicly called a Dramabaaz, Bhujbal was promptly picked up by Congress as an OBC face. Sena is gradually losing ground in the Konkan region, where it has definitely been debilitated by the exit of another top rank leader Narayan Rane. But MNS has pared maximum damage to Shiv Sena and consequently the BJP-Sena alliance.

SHIVAJI PARK 3 MAY 300x225 Raj Thackeray: The Marathi Manoos As A Congress, NCP Pop Up?

Rally at Shivaji Park, Mumbai in which Raj spoke out against North Indians.

In the 2009 Assembly Election, the obvious Raj effect had assured Congress with a smooth regain with 82 seats. Congress got 82 and NCP 62, just one less of the majority of 145. Sena secured 44, BJP got 46, MNS 13, the so called Third Front 8 and others 33. There were 30 independent candidates in the fray. In the 2004 Polls, Congress had secured 69, NCP got 71, Sena gained 64, and BJP got 54. The others got 30. With MNS playing a conclusive role in 60 Mumbai-Thane Assembly seats in 2009, Congress had also confirmed itself in Marathwada, Vidarbha and Konkan regions due to the MNS factor.

In the following Lok Sabha elections too, the MNS bagged a major portion of the Marathi votes, generally in Sena strongholds, more so in urban areas skirting Mumbai. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance lost 10 out of 11 seats where Raj Thackeray’s MNS put up their candidates. The Congress-NCP alliance candidates winning margin in the 6 Lok Sabha seats of Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Bhiwandi and Pune were lesser than the votes acquired by the first time MNS candidates. This translates into the fact that if the MNS candidates had not been in the contest , the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance could have easily won 10 more seats than they finally clinched.

Psephologists have now analysed the entire situation thread bare. In the election, Congress-NCP alliance acquired 25 seats out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. On the contrary, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance could clinch only 20 seats. If the MNS candidates had not performed so well, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance could boost up its performance with 30 seats and the Cong-NCP tally could have been limited to a tally of just to 15, thus changing the emerging political ambiance in the State. Par example, in Nashik Lok Sabha seat, Sena big shot Datta Gaikwad received 158,239 votes and ended as the third. MNS contestant Hemant Godse piled up 216,674 votes. Consequently NCP candidate Samir Bhujbal won the Nashik seat by a margin of 22,032 votes.Incidentally In this important industrial city, Raj Thackeray was once the in-charge of his erstwhile party Shiv Sena.

In 2009 Parliament election, 12 MNS candidates got more than 1 lakh votes each, which ultimately led to the defeats of the Shiv Sena-BJP combine in 11 out of 12seats. Congress is well aware of the fact and hence repeatedly overlooked MNS’s hooliganism and chauvinism, over all these years. A miffed Uddhav Thackeray had already called Raj “a contractor”, working on contract for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine! Not only that, surprisingly enough the same allegations had come publicly from the Senior CPM MP Vrinda Karat , a politburo member, that Congress-NCP alliance was supporting MNS to dent Sena-BJP votes!

NCP is Not Far Behind

It’s an emerging fact that Raj Thackeray-led MNS is gradually moving far from the Congress and as a consequence the NCP and MNS are inching closer. Reportedly Sharad Pawar has advised some of its funders to give some part of their funding to MNS as a “friendly gesture”! Pawar is much enthusiastic on repeating 2009’s performance by putting MNS candidates against Shiv Sena in the forthcoming Lok Sabha Polls. Pawar is more desperate lately, as many pre poll surveys have predicted lesser NCP seats this time. So, by encouraging the MNS leadership he is trying to retain as much as of NCP’s losing ground.

NCP’s recent overture over Narendra Modi’s PM candidature is not without rhymes or reason. , NCP started believing that the next PM would surely be a non-Congress leader. Most possibly Narendra Modi would become the next PM or someone else from some of the makeshift fronts, but definitely not from the Congress. In the second situation, if BJP led NDA alliance could not master the majority, Sharad Pawar is readying himself for that eventuality. If the situation demands, he may seek support from various parties. Political possibilities will change only after the 2014 Lok Sabha election results.
Shiv Sena is with the NDA, so MNS will be the viable option, as the ‘Marathi Manoos’ sentiment is aptly attached. Maharashtra Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde has already prementioned the situation, only a few days back.

Raj as a Friend

Reportedly Raj Thackeray had a secret meeting with Deputy CM Ajit Pawar of NCP at Worli last year. NCP supposedly put an attractive picture before MNS. The next Maharashtra Assembly Poll is scheduled at the end of 2014. After the Lok Sabha Polls, in the Assembly Polls, if MNS could win more seats this time, it will pave out Government formation for NCP-MNS alliance, most possibly Ajit Pawar as the CM. Raj’s first priority is to finish Shiv Sena’s influence. So, the proposal is not that unpalatable to him. Obviously, otherwise vocal MNS maintained calm in the Assembly on Rs. 26,000 Crore irrigation scam, which allegedly and importantly involved Ajit Pawar!

The then CM Ashok Chavan led Congress had prompted MNS rise in 2009 elections. Congress won 17 Lok Sabha Seats and 82 Assembly Seats, the highest since 1995. The situation has changed over these years. Raj does not share the equation with the present CM Prithviraj Chavan. Also, Raj knows well that Prithviraj Chavan would not be at the helm for long. Ajit Pawar is far more familiar to him in the State level. Also Ajit and Raj want to go further than their present situation. On the other side, BJP’s key Maharashtra leaders like Gopinath Munde, Vinod Tawde, Eknath Khadse and Sudhir Mungantiwar have always expressed their bonhomie for MNS.Even the former BJP Chief Nitin Gadkari shares a nice rapport with Raj. If Pawar needs BJP’s support to line up with MNS, well, that’s also a possibility.

By Deep Basu

Also See:
From Sarkar to Raj – The Fractious Legacy of Bal Thackeray
The Perils of Dynastic Rule: Reader’s Voice

Image Source: By [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, By AkshayIndulkar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, By ROHAN DUMBRE from mumbai, india (SHIVAJI PARK 3 MAY) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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