Just as a single swallow does not a summer make, a single event, however spectacular, does not make for a major tectonic shift in politics. Raj Thackeray’s Tuesday rally must be viewed through this prism as one evaluates the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as well as the wider politics in the State.
Sure, it had a lot on show — the rally, and the 2.5 km-long morcha from Chowpatty to Azad Maidan was a resounding success on several counts. The men who walked and gathered there was huge by any yardstick given that its organisation was on short notice, almost impromptu. That the rally was peaceful, even if disruptive, was another.
The defiance of the law, come what way, added the all-important edge to the event that indicates lot more than mere cheek. It showed that, when a party with a huge following is forced to the back foot decides to thumb its nose at the authorities, the latter can be reduced to a spectator. It was reduced to ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ paralysis.
The law was cautious treading the fragile path of order vs street-violence with the scope for violence of any scale, especially because a minority community had gone on the rampage earlier. When it did not, it was showed up to weak-kneed. A real morale booster for the MNS cadre; it realised it has what it takes without a single street-level action.
Raj Thackeray’s morcha prior to the rally was precisely just that. It was not surreptitiously strategised but openly announced – get-me-if-you-have-the-guts kind of body language from a political party which literally deterred the authority. Traditionally such ‘defiance’ by other parties is nominal: few steps amid tight police security, photo opportunity for the media, then getting let-off at the police station.
If the attendance at the rally is a yardstick to measure the success of a political step, then it could be a serious error. Like in a mall, where the footfalls don’t add up to purchases – such events that are attended by card-holding cadres do not count. It is how they influence those outside the party’s direct pale that matters.
When Sharad Pawar broke away from the Congress on Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s nationality and set up his own Nationalist Congress Party, the well-oiled sugarcane sectors which had sugar barons straining every nerve to ensure an attendance at Shivaji Park succeeded. But in those 1999 polls, the tallest Maratha leader – as he is popularly perceived – failed to cut ice. He had to ally with the new-found enemy to form a government. It was then thought Pawar had won Maharashtra; he had not.
Numbers, thus, do not matter. What stems from these events do. Pawar had to settle for the serious damage that his party could inflict on the Congress, but just that. And this was a serious compromise, given that the two, at least in Maharashtra’s context, are enemies sharing the same bed for the same delight — spoils of office.
Apart from successfully thumbing his nose at the law which had to forebear all the stings, Raj Thackeray did achieve something which at this moment appears tangible but it has to grow further to have any lasting – in politics, ‘lasting’ is rather elastic — meaning. One, he has floored the Shiv Sena, more a rival for the MNS than any other party is. It has applauded his agenda, his prescience.
Two, he has shown that despite only a few wins in most civic bodies since February and a handful of seats in the State legislature, he is now a larger numerical threat to any, most certainly to emerge as an eternal spoil sport in electoral politics. No one can swear as to from where the crowds came, urban or rural, but the latter may not be substantial. If only urban, then he is of little use but the MNS brand has strengthened.
Though careful in what he said in his 20-minutes cogent speech, Raj Thackeray did manage to underscore that he was for the Marathi manoos. His references to the police constabulary as ‘Marathi policemen’ went home; unlike with political pundits, the crowds which they mistake for the unwashed, can read the lines and between them much more precisely. The Maharashtra Dharma he spoke about as primary to his agenda stated what his platform is.
He kept the outsider and ‘outsider Muslim’ platform alive, much like his uncle did and his former party, Shiv Sena did by always harping on how it was in favour of ‘nationalist Muslim’.
Indicating inclusion and exclusion in politics is an art; one cannot legally fault it, but the message offered is lapped up. Thus, his old constituency remains intact.
He may have irked the Dalits however: the sharpness with which he criticised the Dalit leaders for their obsession with Indu Mills in Dadar could well be read as an anti-Dalit stance. But if an enlightened Dalit community vexed with self-serving Dalit politicians – Mayawati to the local head of a small branch – were to see that he stressed the obvious, the harm could be minimal. Mayawati, however, does not count for much in the State. But that was a chance, like one does always in politics, he had to take.
By voicing the ire of what could be a widespread sentiment at the 11 August rally set up by the Raza Academy which turned violent, at this moment apparently with a prior plan and proper organisation, Raj Thackeray may just about have managed to enlarge his hitherto mostly urban constituency, especially where non-Marathi migrants have taken an increasingly visible upper hand in working the economy, as in Nashik.
Without enlarging that constituency, MNS would have a circumscribed existence, not being able to make a dent in Maharashtra’s larger politics. But he has emerged as a useful ally for the Shiv Sena and BJP; but the Sena would have to establish that it is reliable; it cannot play the tricks as it did in Thane and Nashik civic polls. To the NCP and the Congress, he would be a worry. Thus, all parties are on notice because, now, Raj Thackeray has a strategy.