The crushing defeat of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in the recently concluded general election has forced Raj Thackeray to reposition himself to stay afloat in the Maharashtra politics.
All the 10 candidates of the party lost their deposit. The MNS vote share had fallen to 1.47 per cent compared to four per cent in the 2009 election. The party had polled 1.5 million votes after contesting 12 seats in that election.
However, in this general election, MNS nominees got mere 700,000 votes, as voters had opted for the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance even in constituencies represented by MNS legislators. Despite fiery speeches, scathing attack against the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and also against the Shiv Sena in particular, MNS candidates in 10 seats miserably failed to get even 100,000 votes each.
Voters dumped Raj’s ‘Modi card’ as he failed to provide an alternative development model or make public his much debated blue print for Maharashtra. MNS’s violent agitations against toll collection and hate politics against north Indians did not appeal the voters. Besides, Raj’s call to teach the Shiv Sena a lesson did not go down well with its traditional vote bank, the Marathi Manoos, who thought MNS was not only a spoiler but an extended arm of the ruling Congress.
Further, voters expressed their anger over Raj’s allegations that Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray had given small, oily batata wadas to late Bal Thackeray during his last days. After learning this, Raj used to send chicken soup from his house till Bal Thackeray slipped into a coma. Raj was responding to Uddhav’s criticism that the former had back-stabbed Bal Thackeray.
Political analyst Pratap Asbe told Business Standard: “MNS lacks any clear agenda. His flip-flop over Modi and Gujarati community confused his rank and file. Voters felt that Raj-led party is the party to divide votes, especially of the Shiv Sena and it cost MNS heavily. Voters were also convinced that a vote for the MNS means a vote for the Congress.” Also, Raj failed to make development as a major poll plank. The MNS-controlled Nashik civic body failed to demonstrate its political will to implement growth agenda there.
Notwithstanding infighting and unrest within the Shiv Sena, the latter benefited in a big way by boarding the Modi bandwagon, Asbe said.
An MNS leader, who did not want to be identified, said the centralisation of power and lack of party machinery at the grassroots led to party’s worst performance. “After the party’s formation in 2006, the MNS had won 13 Assembly seats in the state. Voters felt that they had got an option in the MNS, and a charismatic leader like Raj could protect their interests. However, the party without any concrete programme failed to mobilise support, despite record-breaking rallies addressed by Raj,” he said.
Immediately after the poll results were declared, Raj said: “Modi won, all others lost”. Raj did not said what went wrong for the debacle.
Interestingly, state BJP chief Devendrra Fadnavis, who is one of the architects of the party’s stellar performance, said there was no proposal to include MNS in the BJP-led Maha Yuti or any move to strike seat-sharing deal in the run-up to the Assembly elections to be held September-October this year.
Also there is a demand from some quarters in the MNS to arrive at an understanding with the Shiv Sena. The MNS has its presence in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik belt though his party nominees were elected in civic and local bodies and Assembly from the rest of Maharashtra. If the MNS arrive at understanding with the Shiv Sena -BJP alliance, it will further damage the prospects of the Congress-NCP combine, which had bagged only six seats in the general election.
Sources suggested the MNS might merge the Shiv Sena, though Raj has time and again ruled this out. Moreover, an alliance between the NCP and MNS might take a shape ahead of the Assembly polls. The NCP had admitted that it had received alliance proposal from the MNS before the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections. However, both the parties did not pursue it.
MNS insiders say Raj might have to work overtime to change the image of the party as development-oriented and not only of Marathi Manoos. It should do away with violence and hate politics. Time is running out for Raj.