Raj using time-tested formula of mimicry and verbal pyrotechnics to increase his party’ appeal, says NCP

Of late the Shiv Sena’s street fighting or “rada” (fight in colloquial Marathi) hasn’t been much in evidence. Not during the two- day nationwide bandh in February and certainly not during the funeral of their departed leader Bal Thackeray in November last,which earned praise.” But Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president Raj Thackeray has jumped into the breach with all the weapons in the Shiv Sena’s armoury — mimicry, verbal pyrotechnics and street fighting. And he has come a cropper.

Since the demise of Bal Thackeray there has been much speculation over the future of his party and that of his nephew Mr. Raj Thackeray. While the former fervently wished for a reunion between his son and nephew and spoke about it publicly, the two cousins have not yet obliged. Instead, to consolidate their political base, they embarked on different tours across Maharashtra. Mr. Uddhav Thackeray’s tour passed almost unnoticed, but not his cousin’s, which drew attention for huge crowds and virulent speeches.

In Solapur, Mr. Raj Thackeray targeted Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders, notably Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and his Irrigation Department, which has spent close to Rs. 70,000 crore without much result on the ground. His language was unprintable, say NCP leaders, and most people who heard the speech tend to agree.

Incensed NCP workers staged a black flag protest and the MNS claims they stoned Mr. Raj Thackeray’s SUV earlier this week, damaging it. That night and the next morning there were some half-hearted attacks on NCP offices and stones were hurled and effigies burnt.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik claimed these attacks were stage-managed and all part of the MNS’ “event management strategy.” Mr. Ajit Pawar was more direct. He called this a nautanki (a charade). He said the NCP could also give a fitting reply, whatever that is. The rather tame street fight died down soon. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan shrugged it off saying it was a law and order issue, and Mr. Raj Thackeray continued with his tour while his cousin seemed to offer him support.

Drought politics

Mr. Raj Thackeray has been publicly voicing opinions against “drought tourism.” Yet he chose to go to a drought area himself and assail the party which he thinks is behind the alarming water situation in the State. Some called it a strategic move since western Maharashtra is the stronghold of the Congress as well as the NCP.

The NCP has an answer for this. It says that the MNS chief’s anti-migrant agenda will not work in interior Maharashtra and so bereft of any issue, he has been forced to take on the NCP. However, the party cannot answer why, if Raj Thackeray’s speech was so offensive, the State could not take action against him. After all, the NCP holds the important ‘Home’ portfolio. In the past too, the Home Department has been rather kind to the MNS leader, and not without good reason.

With Assembly and Lok Sabha polls coming up next year, the MNS, with its USP of attracting the youth, who form nearly a third of the State’s electorate, has clearly no strategy. In rural Maharashtra, Mr. Malik points out, the MNS has little base and it is harking back to the time-tested formula of mimicry and abuse to attract youngsters. Instead of Navnirman, MNS was creating goondas and often they end up being charged for their crimes, he adds.

Though the MNS performed well last year in the municipal elections in three or four cities, including Mumbai, and added to its seat numbers, it cannot ride on that promise for the next big election it will contest. While it divided the Marathi votes and helped the Congress-NCP combine gain ground in the last general and Assembly polls in 2009, in the Mumbai civic polls, the MNS did not do much damage, though the NCP did lose out to the MNS in some seats.

But it is a fact that the NCP is also emerging as a party with some strategy. It has cleverly launched the Rashtrawadi Yuvati Congress, headed by Supriya Sule, which also has a network of self-help groups. It has also been trying to ward off the taint of corruption in irrigation and land scams that is sticking to it.

Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, some of whom are good friends of the MNS leader, are pushing for a BJP-MNS-Shiv Sena alliance to fight the Congress-NCP regime. Even Mr. Chavan expressed apprehension that if it did come to pass, the Congress would be in some trouble.

However, the infighting in the BJP and a Shiv Sena without Bal Thackeray may pose some issues. The recent fracas should also draw attention to the MNS and its political strategy. The anti-migrant, pro Marathi manoos agenda didn’t take the Shiv Sena beyond a point. The MNS seems to have reached that stagnation sooner in its career path. Imitating political rivals, however good he may be at it or verbal abuse will not take Mr. Raj Thackeray very far. If the MNS wants to attract the youth, then it is looking at a decisive group that wants results and on the more practical side, jobs. There’s plenty of mimicry and verbal abuse going around anyway. Politicians have to deliver more than that.

  • In Solapur, Raj targeted the NCP leaders in language they say is unprintable

  • His anti-migrant agenda won’t work in interior Maharashtra and so, bereft of any issue, he has adopted this strategy