The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: How Inducting Raj Thackeray's MNS Will Impact BJP-led NDA In Maharashtra?

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: How Inducting Raj Thackeray's MNS Will Impact BJP-led NDA In Maharashtra?

As events progress swiftly, there is widespread questioning regarding the BJP's rationale for including Raj Thackeray's MNS in the NDA.

Tejas JoshiUpdated: Tuesday, March 19, 2024, 04:18 PM IST
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Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray arrived in Delhi on Monday night accompanied by his son Amit. Their purpose was a meeting scheduled with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday. Meanwhile, members of the BJP's core committee from Maharashtra are already present in the capital.

With Raj's presence in Delhi, the political arena is abuzz with speculation about the BJP forming an alliance with the Maharashtra-based party ahead of next month's Lok Sabha elections. Should this partnership materialise, the MNS would become the fourth significant member of the NDA, joining the BJP along with two splinter factions of the Shiv Sena and NCP led by Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar, respectively.

Nevertheless, as events progress swiftly, there is widespread questioning regarding the BJP's rationale for including Raj Thackeray's MNS in the NDA. The party's track record in previous elections has not yielded significant results, prompting skepticism about its potential impact.

While at first glance, Raj Thackeray's inclusion might appear to yield little for the saffron party, there are likely compelling reasons behind the BJP's decision that could bolster their electoral prospects. Here are a few potential motives for the BJP to get Raj Thackeray's support:

The good

1) Uddhav Thackeray has emerged as arguably the most prominent figure in the opposition camp, especially after his brief stint as CM and subsequent resignation following the split engineered by Eknath Shinde. While the BJP may have initially believed that Shinde and his faction of the Sena could diminish Uddhav's credibility post-split, the move instead garnered public sympathy for the Thackeray scion, with labels like 'Khoke Sarkar' and 'Gaddar' resonating among Shiv Sena's core supporters. In this scenario, the BJP requires a credible figure to undermine Uddhav. Who better than someone bearing the Thackeray surname to fulfill that role? Given Raj's history of rivalry with Uddhav over the Shiv Sena's leadership succession and his lingering appeal among traditional Shiv Sena voters, he possesses the potential to dent Uddhav's credibility in a manner that Shinde and his associates cannot.

2) One of the primary factors contributing to Raj Thackeray's enduring popularity, notwithstanding his party's lackluster electoral performances, is his impassioned oratory style, often reminiscent of his uncle and Shiv Sena founder, the late Bal Thackeray. Raj Thackeray's massive rallies are a common sight in Maharashtra, fueled by his ability to speak directly and candidly. His speeches resonate with people because he speaks his mind without hesitation. It is this charismatic oratory that has enabled him, despite being a relatively minor player in Maharashtra politics, to ignite movements against north Indians in Mumbai and against exorbitant toll collections. When coupled with the organisational prowess of the BJP and the NDA, Raj Thackeray's oratory could be a game-changer. It would not be surprising to see him emerge as a central figure in rallies, drawing large crowds, if he is extensively utilised for campaigning.

3) Raj could emerge as a pivotal figure in the BMC elections following the general polls. With the BJP-led NDA aiming to displace Uddhav's grip on the lucrative Mumbai municipal corporation, Raj's involvement could prove crucial in splintering the Marathi vote bank, which typically rallies behind the Thackeray faction in large numbers.

While the aforementioned factors may favour the BJP-led NDA by bringing Raj Thackeray into the fold, there are also significant potential repercussions associated with aligning with him on a larger scale.

The bad

1) Raj Thackeray's MNS lacks a consistent ideological stance. Apart from initially focusing on regionalism-related issues at the inception of his party's journey, there is no clearly defined ideology on key matters. This ambiguity has led to Raj's perceived political flip-flopping over the past decade. In 2014, he supported Narendra Modi as the PM candidate and even endorsed the 'Gujarat model' to justify his stance. However, by the time the 2019 elections approached, Raj shifted gears and vehemently opposed Modi and the BJP. Despite his viral 'Laav re to video' (Play that video) speeches on social media, they had minimal electoral impact. Following scrutiny by the ED and Uddhav's departure from the NDA to join the MVA, Raj appeared to align himself closer to the BJP once again. He raised issues such as mosque loudspeakers, threatening consequences if they were not removed, prompting action in various parts of the state. Additionally, he unveiled a new saffron-colored flag for his party in Mumbai, with the presence of several right-wing organizations like Bajrang Dal and VHP. Despite indications of his readiness to join forces with the BJP, Raj remained on the sidelines, occasionally criticising the saffron party and its allies.

2) Raj Thackeray's MNS made a notable entry into the political arena by securing 13 assembly seats (out of 288) in the 2009 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections, its first electoral participation. Additionally, it demonstrated strength in the 2012 municipal corporation elections, establishing a presence across the state. However, since then, the party has experienced a downward trajectory. Amid dwindling credibility and organisational strength, the MNS saw its MLA count plummet to just one in the 2019 assembly elections. Its representation in municipal corporations has similarly diminished, with corporators now numbering in the single digits, except in the KDMC. It's fair to say that Raj Thackeray and the MNS are no longer considered significant players in Maharashtra politics. Even with the BJP's inclusion and allocation of seats, it could be viewed as a gamble, given the uncertainty surrounding the prospects of Raj's candidates emerging victorious.

The ugly

1) Raj Thackeray gained national notoriety in 2008 when his party initiated a violent campaign against north-Indian migrants in Mumbai. The MNS clashed with other political factions like the SP, enforced threats for companies to hire Marathi youth, and targeted north Indian street vendors throughout the state. In a particularly egregious incident, they assaulted North Indian candidates appearing for the all-India Railway Recruitment Board entrance exam for the Western region in Mumbai. The aftermath of these actions led to riots and Raj Thackeray's subsequent arrest. His history of provocative speeches against north Indians and his party's involvement in violence against them could be exploited by the opposition, especially in north Indian states where the BJP holds significant influence. The animosity towards Raj in the north is so pronounced that even BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh opposed Thackeray's visit to Ayodhya and demanded an apology for his actions against north Indians. Given Raj's tainted image in the north, his association with the BJP could potentially prove detrimental rather than beneficial for the party. Raj Thackeray also faces significant unpopularity among the Gujarati community in Mumbai. This sentiment could present opportunities for the opposition to challenge the BJP in constituencies where the Gujarati population holds sway.

2) In addition to other concerns, Raj Thackeray's grip over his own organisation appears to have weakened over time. Prominent leaders, including recent figures like Vasant More in Pune, have already departed from the party. With few exceptions like Bala Nandgaonkar, Raj's original loyalists have dwindled in number. There are also murmurs behind closed doors about Raj Thackeray's apparent disconnection with party workers and cadres. Stories abound of individuals waiting for hours at his residence, previously Krushnakuj and now Shivtirth, a well-known issue among people across the state. With Raj's own leadership credibility in question, it remains uncertain how much assistance he can provide to the BJP and NDA in Maharashtra.

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