Raj Thackeray is a charismatic leader like his late uncle Bal Thackeray. They have the same style of speech, aggression and sense of state politics. Now, a little over 11 years since Raj left the Shiv Sena and launched his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in March 2006, the MNS' stock is dropping fast.
Raj left his uncle's party after attacking the Sena coterie and his cousin Uddhav's style of functioning. But after over a decade of running his own party, most founding members of the MNS have already quit and levelled the same allegations against Raj and his coterie. A majority of the party's leaders, MLAs, corporators, office-bearers and followers have already switched to either switch to their original home Shiv Sena or BJP. But the style of functioning of himself not changed by Raj.
When Raj launched his party he coined the catchphrase "Mi Maharashtracha, Maharashtra Majha (I belong to Maharashtra and Maharashtra to me)". At the same time he took up such issues as sons of soil, unemployment of local youth, supporting the Marathi language and others related to the Marathi population. Numerous new voters and youths were attracted to MNS and in the 2009 Assembly election, 13 MNS MLAs were elected. The same formula was applied in the civic body elections and in 2007, the MNS opened its account in all municipal corporations across the state, with particularly remarkable numbers in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik, KDMC and others.
The turning point of his downfall began after he extended support to Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate in March 2014 before the Lok Sabha election that year. But at the same time, Raj announced that the MNS would contest as well. However, a majority of his candidates lost their deposits, with the Shiv Sena and BJP benefitting.
However, the performance of MNS drastically suffered in the last Assembly polls (October 2014), where only one MLA was elected. In 2009, 13 MLAs were elected, but in 2014, it was only Junnar's Sharad Sonawane who was elected. What is of further disappointment to the MNS is that Sonawane has not been sharing the party dais with the party president for a year or so and party sources confirmed to Firstpost that he plans to join the BJP.
And every time election season has rolled around, Raj has told his party cadre that he would 'show the party's strength during the elections'. "We don’t need an alliance. We will win the election solo," he used to claim. In vain.
The problem is that Raj has not stuck with any single issue. He has always made U-turns on his announced positions. First, he announced support for Modi as prime minister, saying that the former Gujarat chief minister's development agenda would help the country. But after suffering a major setback in the Parliament and Assembly elections, Raj quickly began to oppose Modi's policies and decisions. He publicly criticised Modi and alleged that his own pre-election pronouncements were merely part of election strategy. Most recently, Raj also criticised the demonetisation decision, the Mumbai–Ahmedabad bullet train and the Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea.
But this time, it's 'do or die' for his party.
More than six dozens corporators from Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik left the party and joined the BJP or Shiv Sena. Former MLAs Ram Kadam and Pravin Darekar were frustrated with Raj's style of functioning and joined Devendra Fadnavis' camp. In Mumbai, the party had won 28 seats in the 2012 civic election, but now there are only a dozen of them left in the MNS. It's quite the same with the Nashik corporation. The Nashik mayor was a member of the MNS, but of 40 corporators, 24 have already left and the rest are reportedly also in search of greener pastures.
The party's support base is shrinking daily, that’s why he was ready to face the possibility of an electoral alliance if any party approached him. "If someone comes up with a proposal I will surely consider it," said Raj and has with that, once again, bowled a googly. It must be borne in mind that nobody seems to be willing to join hands with the MNS at this stage. In political circles, many party workers are also not willing to accept election tickets from the MNS.
Raj was very much smart to catch the headlines. Without anyone's proposal or discussion, coming forth to announce his willingness to ally with another party showed that he is ready to tie-up with another party. But Raj has made the same mistake as he did in 2014. Just as his fleeting support for Modi, this call for alliance partners has been made without consultation with anyone. The temporary gain for him is that he gets to control the outflow from his party and create confusion between the Sena and BJP.
But this situation in Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik is very different in 2017, due to demonetisation. There are two sides: One that supports Modi's move and the other that opposes it. While Raj is in opposition, semi-urban people (as evident in recent municipal elections) strongly support the BJP.
For Raj's sake, he needs understand the reality quickly and boost the morale of his party even quicker. Or else, he will be trapped in a net that even he will not be able to escape.