What is Raj Thackeray‘s protest all about? Let’s be clear. It is not about the removal of either Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil or that of Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena would have us believe. Another huge agitation in the city against the violence during the protest by Muslim organisations a week ago does not make much sense. It has to be about politics.
Raj Thackeray wants to take the steadily climbing political graph of his six-year-old party higher. For the record, the party has 13 seats in the assembly and is the second most popular party in 24 constituencies; its performance in the civic body polls has been impressive too. To grow bigger, Raj needs to broadbase the party. So far his strength has been Marathi voters, the erstwhile traditional supporters of the Shiv Sena. He needs to capture the Hindutva plank of Bal Thackeray‘s party too.
He has been steadfast in denying that he was embracing Hindutva. “Just because my protest rally is about a rally held earlier by Muslims, I am accused of following the Hindutva ideology…I understand only the Maharashtra dharma and am not propagating Hindutva or any other ideology,” he said. However, it is difficult not to miss the import of his protest rally at this juncture. The Shiv Sena has been rather subdued in its response to the act of vandalism during the rally organised by the Muslim organisations. Someone had to capitalise on the sense of outrage in the city. It was the opportune moment for the MNS to chief to up the ante.
While the supporters of the MNS include Muslims too, it is known that he is not averse to keeping the Hindutva elements on his side. His closeness to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi leaves for him open a window for a future tie-up with the BJP in the state. The two decades old BJP-Shiv Sena alliance appears to have reached a rocky patch. If Modi gets to play a role at the national stage he will be much more comfortable doing business with Raj than Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena’s executive president. It helps the MNS chief’s cause if he makes his Hindutva vote bank in Maharashtra bigger.
At the rally today, Raj sought to highlight the issue of illegal immigrants again. He said the violence by Muslim organisations in Mumbai on 11 August was the end result of unchecked influx of migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bangladesh. He stopped well short of any communal expressions but the hint was perceptible. He also said while the government was quick to grant permission to Raza Academy for its rally, the MNS was denied permission for its own. However, to be fair to him, he was controlled in his speech and nowhere it was evident that he was speaking openly against any community.
By Raj Thackeray’s standards it should be called masterstroke. He was addressing all his constituencies from one platform. While the great connecting idea was missing, he still managed to put across his point. He seems to be planning his future well.