Fuzzy Logic: Can Raj Thackeray Regain Lost Ground In Maharashtra?

Fuzzy Logic: Can Raj Thackeray Regain Lost Ground In Maharashtra?

The state today has very few leaders who can command big political rallies effectively mainly on the basis of their oratory skills

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Tuesday, October 10, 2023, 11:59 PM IST
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MNS Chief Raj Thackeray | File Photo

In India’s traditional politics, oratory has been an important virtue and skill that decides how effective a leader can be. Whether it was BJP's stalwart leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee or whether it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi or whether it was Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray, many such leaders always commanded lakhs of followers mainly because of their oratory. Maharashtra has had a long tradition of political leaders who have been excellent orators. The state today has very few leaders who can command big political rallies effectively mainly on the basis of their oratory skills. One such leader is Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Chief Raj Thackeray. In the last few weeks, Raj Thackeray is seen getting active in Maharashtra, ahead of the big political season. It would be perhaps interesting to see what are the prospects for Raj?

Splitting away from the Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray decided to form his own party MNS in 2006. He came up with certain issues that attracted public attention and media glare too. Often coming up with controversial actions and street violence against migrants in Mumbai city, Raj created a buzz for himself nationally. At a time when Shiv Sena was under the influence of BJP and was seen focusing mainly on the Hindutva agenda, Raj Thackeray's MNS forcefully took up the Marathi Manoos agenda or cause of the Maharashtrian locals. This gave him the political contrast that was needed for a new political outfit to establish itself in a crowded environment.

In the 2009 assembly polls in Maharashtra, Raj Thackery's party did exceptionally well for a startup organisation. MNS won 13 seats in the state assembly. And dozens of seats in several Municipal corporations all over Maharashtra in the 2009-2012 period. However, in the last 10 years or so it has been completely a downhill ride for Raj Thackeray's MNS. Many top leaders were seen deserting the party, and many times political positions were changed, and alliances were made or broken. And in 2023 the party finds itself back to square one wanting to build itself afresh. The big question now of course is whether Raj Thackeray can really gain the lost political ground that his party once commanded in the period 2009-2012.

There are some factors that are likely to restrict Raj Thackeray's ambitious plans to regain the lost political ground.

Firstly, unlike in 2009, in 2023, politics in Maharashtra is not bipolar, it has become multipolar. The split in the Shiv Sena with Eknath Shinde walking away, followed by the split in NCP with Ajit Pawar walking away has created two more powerful players in Maharashtra's political arena. In the 2009-2012 period, the MNS could play spoiler and could green ground by siding with one of the big players but now apart from BJP and Congress, there are two NCPs and two Shiv Senas taking up the total number of large political outfits to six! That means there are too many players and too much competition. How will the MNS deal with it? The general speculation is that MNS will be seen trying to split Udhhav Thackeray's vote share by sounding similar to Uddhav in the poll campaign. So MNS will take up certain issues to target the BJP and Shinde's Shiv Sena so that they can eat into the same political space that Uddhav will want. But how far the MNS will succeed in this is a question many ask because they have done this for too long and too many times.

Secondly, there are certain things observers as well as party-insiders talk about regarding Raj Thackeray's style of functioning. His inaccessibility is a big issue within the party. In informal chats, Raj himself admits to journalists that he feels if he becomes too accessible he will lose his value! So his style of functioning is similar to a big movie star who wants to totally restrict exposure to the media and public. Insiders say the restrictions on access to Raj becomes a big hindrance for many party activities. It is believed that many senior leaders have walked away from the party in the past because they did not have proper access to the top leader.

Thirdly, people talk of how the party is over-dependent on just one big face of Raj Thackeray and does not seem to have the pyramid kind of structure of more known faces, especially outside Mumbai and Thane district. Maharashtra now has many urban political centers like Pune, Nagpur, Kolhapur, Nashik, Solapur, Sambhajinagar where MNS does not seem to have faces of known leaders who represent them. There is also hardly any activity by MNS seen in these large urban political. Questions are asked about whether focusing on just Mumbai and Thane will give MNS the numbers needed to achieve what the party targets in the near future.

Fourthly, the party after 17 years after its inception, still seems to be following the same operational methods that it used over one and a half decades ago. These relate to street smart tactics, causing damage to vehicles or property as a form of agitation and this has resulted in most party workers being charged by law enforcement agencies over the past decade or so and that's to some extent restricted their political activities. In order to create a larger voter base and have a bigger appeal among voters of all economic classes and ages, the party will have to surely revisit this policy and decide what else they can offer the voters.

Maharashtra's deputy chief minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar once said publicly that Raj Thackeray is the only political leader in Maharashtra who gets a spontaneous captive audience of lakhs at a rally and on tv when he delivers a speech; however the question now is whether just the oratory skills he has will suffice for his party to regain the space he has lost in the last 10 years. The four factors mentioned above seem to cause a challenge in the path to regaining the past glory. With competition in the political space hotting up and voters likely to have multiple choices of candidates and parties, the task is surely uphill for Raj Thackeray!

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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