How Raj Thackeray is securing his present and future
Though Raj says the Thane deal to back the Shiv Sena-BJP candidate for the mayoralty was localised, it just might have that potential of a state-wide alliance in the 2014 polls.
Raj Thackeray is not one to dispense free lunches. Not even for his uncle, and especially not for his cousin Uddhav who does not even like to give the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) the time of day.
Then why did Raj Thackeray, the business-like politician, back Shiv Sena and BJP's candidate for the Thane mayoralty when he could have kept them gasping while warding off a serious play by the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party?
There are two clear reasons why. One that has ramifications for the present, and another, with significant import for the future.
First, the present.
For the record, Raj Thackeray did it for his uncle, the aging Shiv Sena founder, who has a 'dream' for Thane. What that dream is has not been spelled out by either. Also, by so delivering Thane to them, he says he had warded off the uncertainty that would have plagued the civic government if the greedy independents had held it to ransom.
Also, his support came not only because it was sought but also because the mandate was in favour of the Sena and the BJP, the single largest outfit to emerge in the 16 February civic polls. Those who have a mandate have to rule.
And yes, hadn't he promised his uncle publicly that if only the Sena founder took one step, he would take a 100 and do things that would deliver good things? But he had asserted, remember, that he "would do it for Balasaheb, not for him (Uddhav)."
That simple logic has a big spin-off for the MNS. In Nashik, the mandate favours Raj Thackeray's party, but like the Sena-BJP, it is short of the magic numbers. Therefore, the Sena has to, after eating humble pie and begging for support in Thane, reciprocate in Nashik.
However, that is one part of the story.
The other, and the bigger part, is more engaging. It is the seed of an idea whose time has come, and which is best understood by the Sena’s long-time partner, the BJP. Though Raj Thackeray says this was a highly localised, Thane-specific deal with no other bargains (for the record), and "you (media) need not speculate on it being a state-wide possibility", it just might have that potential. In fact, it has all the makings of a defining alliance.
When the BJP's four state-level leaders called on Bal Thackeray days after the results of the civic and Panchayati Raj election results were out, they impressed upon him the need to reckon Raj Thackeray's MNS as a strong factor that could help their alliance come closer to power in 2014 in Maharashtra. He was winning voters away from the Sena all the time and this erosion has to be contained by an alliance.
No doubt the supremo found it hard to digest and ticked them off. Apparently, after some chewing and realisation that Thane was likely to slip from their grasp, three Sena MLAs were sent to beg for support. If the cousin, Uddhav does not fall in line, then he gets exposed as an opportunist and Raj emerges not only as an affectionate nephew but a democrat to whom people's mandate is sacrosanct.
The arithmetic is in MNS's favour: to be the sought-after or he becomes a leveller in the future elections. The BJP-Sena have a great desire – and which party does not? – to return to power and every vote counts. The rankings in the Zilla Parishad and samiti elections showed that neither the BJP nor the Sena ranked high; the first and second places went to Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, the third was with BJP and the fourth slot went to Sena.
Therefore that alliance has to emerge.
If the rural base weakens and the urban vote erodes because the MNS snatched them away, then the 2014 dream evaporates. The BJP seems to have made headway in getting the Sena to see this light. Such alliances as with the MNS, however, are not formed overnight. They are graded steps and the denouement comes after lot of hard bargains.
Thane was that one well calibrated step.
The other 99 of the 100 steps that Raj Thackeray promised he would take if only his uncle took one, have to be taken over the next two years. Time enough, if only Bal Thackeray remains active, does not entirely abdicate in favour of the son, and the son does not waver. And Uddhav has to overcome his animus for Raj, which is easier said than done.
For Raj Thackeray also counts the rain checks he hands over.
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