MUMBAI: Even as the Mumbai city was gripping under cold waves of a prolonged winter, a sense of warmth filled Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray after civic election results came filtering out on February 17. It was also a winter in December 2005 Raj had severed ties with Shiv Sena, a party playing regional political card founded by his uncle Bal Thackeray. Three months later on March 9, 2006 when Raj announced the MNS, many were skeptical about the party’s prospects.
Six years hence the MNS is now a force to reckon with. The results of 2012 civic elections put Raj and his party in a formidable position with 112 corporators in nine municipalities across the state. In Mumbai, MNS has increased its tally from seven to 28. In the civic general body of Mumbai that has a strength of 227, MNS has 12.3 per cent representation, a feat that has not even been achieved by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) since it was founded in 1999.
Though Raj nurses the disappointment that MNS was not able to spoil the party for his cousin Uddhav whose Shiv Sena would continue its reign over Mumbai for a record forth consecutive term, he admitted that he was content with the progress made. However, MNS has successfully broken into the stronghold of Shiv Sena in Dadar where Sena Bhavan, the head office of Sena and Shivaji Park is located. “Now with 28 corporators in Mumbai, Shiv Sena or any other party would not need support of the MNS. He is confident that in the next elections this tally would increase and then MNS would be the key factor in the power equations,” said an MNS MLA. He then gave the example of Nashik where MNS in the last elections had won 12 seats and during the mayoral elections MNS corporator abstaining from voting helped Shiv Sena candidate get elected. “This time we are the single largest party in Nashik with 40 corporators and MNS would get its first Mayor in Nashik city,” said Vageesh Saraswat, MNS vice-president.
The rise of Raj has been synonymous with his party as he is the only force that gives momentum to the party unlike the Sena where there are several power centers. He had resented that even the clerks (personal assistants) of some leaders in the Sena wielded more power than he did. After quitting the Sena over differences with his cousin Uddhav, Raj vowed to set up a party that will be different from the Sena. “In MNS there are no power centres other than Raj saheb. His word is final and nobody in the party can change that. All MNS leaders, irrespective of their standing in the party, can leave if they cannot respect Raj’s authority on matters of party administration,” said MNS functionary.
Shiv Sena leaders feel that Raj owes his success to his mentor and uncle Bal Thackeray. “As young boy he had idolised his uncle. As a child he would often mimic his uncle addressing the gatherings. He walked on the footsteps of his uncle doing everything he did. His uncle was cartoonist, he too developed his interest in cartoon and became adept. He is very studious person and picks up things very fast,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader who had observed both Raj and Uddav grow from children to men. According to Maharashtra state intelligence department, Raj had spent a small fortune (Rs 20 lakh) in obtaining videos of all the public addresses of his uncle immediately after he had founded MNS in 2006. He then used a video editing software that would display his uncle’s video in half of the screen and in other half it would be his trial speech. “If you observe the opening lines of Raj during public address, they are very similar to Balasaheb. He has replaced the word Hindu with Marathi. Raj seemed like a promise for a generation that grown on Thackeray’s fiery speeches and for the younger generation he fed them with fear of becoming marginalised in their native land. Raj is perfecting the politics of regionalism that was founded by his uncle,” said a former Sena leader.