Analysis: BJP Needs The Thackeray Brand And MNS Needs Survival!

Analysis: BJP Needs The Thackeray Brand And MNS Needs Survival!

Feedback from the ground indicates that sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray may once again be growing among voters. The BJP now feels they badly need the ‘Thackeray brand’ at their rallies

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Tuesday, March 19, 2024, 10:50 PM IST
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(R to L) Home Minister Amit Shah, MNS leader Raj Thackeray, and Thackeray's son Amit | Provided

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s invitation to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) party chief Raj Thackeray to visit New Delhi for a meeting was viewed as the most important political development in Maharashtra in the past few days. A lot of speculation started over what the agenda of this meeting exactly was; whether Raj would be officially become part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA alliance and perhaps get one or two Lok Sabha seats; how Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena would react to Raj Thackeray’s entry into the already crowded ruling alliance in the state; how the BJP would make space for Raj Thackeray in the present political setup; and how Raj’s entry would affect the NDA’s chances of winning seats in Maharashtra.

Historically the Thackerays have been known for never travelling out of their home turf of Mumbai and Maharashtra for any political meetings or talks. Shiv Sena patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray took pride in the fact that top leaders of political parties, Bollywood stars, artists and sportsmen of national repute came to his residence whenever he wanted and he never had to travel out of Mumbai to meet anybody. When the BJP-led NDA formed its government in New Delhi in 1999 with the Shiv Sena as a coalition member in the government, all talks and negotiations happened at Thackeray’s Mumbai residence with top BJP leader Pramod Mahajan acting as Prime MInister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s emissary. MNS chief Raj Thackeray followed that style by not going out for any talks or negotiations with any other leader and making them come to his place. However, now in a rare act Raj was seen travelling to New Delhi, staying there overnight and holding talks with Amit Shah about a possible alliance in Maharashtra in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Raj Thackeray broke away from the Shiv Sena in 2005, his party MNS was formed in early 2006, and in the 2009 polls the party did exceedingly well, winning 13 seats in the Maharashtra assembly. The Shiv Sena called Raj Thackeray’s MNS a party that was clandestinely working in the interest of the Congress NCP alliance in the state. Some BJP leaders told the media in 2009 — off the record — that Raj Thackeray’s party was responsible for eating into the BJP-Shiv Sena voter base and they lost the 2009 Maharashtra Assembly polls only because of the MNS. In the 2012 Mumbai Municipal Corporation polls, the MNS again did well and got 27 seats in the house of 227 members. But Raj was not able to sustain this tempo from the 2014 Assembly polls in the state — the MNS got just one seat. In the 2017 Mumbai Municipal polls the MNS got seven seats but six of those members crossed over to the Shiv Sena. In the past few years the MNS has been deserted by most of Raj Thackeray’s top colleagues. Many joined the Shiv Sena, some went to the BJP, and the MNS now finds itself in dire straits.

Those who look at the picture from the BJP’s side say this situation developing within Raj Thackeray’s MNS could not have come at a better time for the BJP. Even after engineering splits in Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, the BJP is still unsure about how the people of Maharashtra would react to this political tactic. No election at the local level has happened since the splits in Maharashtra’s large regional parties were executed by the BJP. Now the feedback from the ground indicates that sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray may once again be growing among voters. The BJP now feels they badly need the “Thackeray brand” at their rallies. One thing Raj Thackeray delivers at political rallies is huge crowds, as his speeches are a big draw. Now the BJP wants all that, especially to counter Uddhav on his home turf.

The buzz now is that the BJP may give one seat to the MNS — perhaps the South Mumbai Lok Sabha seat — and include the party in the NDA alliance. In any case Raj is not too ambitious about his party’s presence in Parliament; he would accept just one seat and join in because firstly it’s now a matter of survival for his party and secondly his focus would be more on cracking some deal with the BJP in the Assembly polls.

Lastly, it may be said that both sides are taking a risk with this proposed alliance. Raj was very vocal in his criticism of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign. He did that on behalf of Sharad Pawar’s NCP as he was very close to Sharad Pawar at that time, but after the 2019 Maha Vikas Aghadi deal that Sharad Pawar engineered, Raj felt dejected and left out. Can Raj now be in the NDA camp and target Sharad Pawar and Uddhav; will it be credible? Nobody knows the answer to that. The BJP is perhaps playing a gamble by taking Raj Thackeray along. It might just work for them or it may boomerang if the voters think they are being taken for granted.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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