MUMBAI: As Maharashtra goes to polls in its fourth and last phase on Monday, it will be interesting to watch the impact of a non-player on the entire exercise.
The non-playing part is a technicality to dodge the Election Commission, as Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) leader Raj Thackeray is with the Opposition, though he has not fielded any candidate.
Known for his oratory and theatrics, Thackeray drew a lot of eyeballs by running a corporate style campaign using powerpoint presentations and videos to “expose the pompous claims of” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. The echo of his style on social media was several times louder.
Thackeray’s trademark call before displaying any video during the rallies — Ae lav re toh video (Hey, play the video) was an instant hit and led to several memes, including the ones where a ‘scared’ Modi is seen inquiring where the video is being played? (Lavla ka re to video?) The Ae... phrase soon came to denote opposition to the ruling dispensation. And its popularity peaked with people attending rallies wearing black T-shirts with Ae lav re toh video written on them.
The offline and online popularity of these rallies disturbed the BJP so much that it urged the EC to add his rally expenses to the account of the Congress or the NCP candidate, for whom he was canvassing. But the crafty Thackeray would wrap up his speech with an appeal to people to “watch carefully and vote sensibly”. Don’t vote for Modi or the BJP, he would say upfront, but not a word on whom they should vote for instead.
He ignored Vidarbha and Marathwada and focused on West Maharashtra and the Mumbai Metropolitan Area, which is a Shiv Sena stronghold. For a party that has no presence even in a municipal corporation, this could be the MNS’ defining moment.