From Marathi manoos to macro Hindutva: Raj Thackeray has to seize the moment, say political watchers

05:19 PM Apr 23, 2022 | PTI |

Mumbai: Once touted as the alter-ego of his uncle, the late Bal Thackeray, MNS chief Raj Thackeray finds himself in an electoral corner after successive drubbings and is attempting to reinvent himself by expanding his vistas from just the Marathi manoos card to a more macro Hindutva appeal.


While it is debatable if Raj Thackeray will indeed find success, political watchers are agreed that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader has to seize the moment or get further marginalized as his cousin Uddhav Thackeray moves ahead in his tenure as Maharashtra chief minister in alliance with the Congress and the NCP.

“In the past, he launched his party on Marathi ‘manoos’ but that did not have the desired impact. This is the moment for him to relaunch his party which has become irrelevant,” Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) told PTI.

Stressing that Raj Thackeray, 54, is looking to relaunch his party using the Hindutva card after failing to yield electoral success, he added that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena cannot do the hardline politics it is known for given that it is in government and the MNS can fill the space.

“The timing also matters, looking at the temperature politics in the country,” Kumar added, referring to Hindutva politics getting traction in several parts of the country. Vaibhav Purandare, senior journalist and author of “Bal Thackeray – the rise and fall of Shiv Sena”, concurred.


The MNS chief, he said, is following in the footsteps of Bal Thackeray and his hardline Hindutva positioning comes at a time the BJP is accusing the Sena of abandoning Hindutva and joining hands with the Congress and the NCP who coined the word ‘Hindutva terror’.

“Raj seems to have concluded that anti-Modi politics will not help. Plus, there is no basic contradiction in the Marathi manoos agenda and Hindutva,” Purandare told PTI.

Perhaps in consonance with expert-speak, Raj Thackeray in the last 15 days has hit the headlines for his diktat to remove speakers atop mosques in Maharashtra by May 3, forcing the Uddhav Thackeray-led government to call a meeting of top police officials to work on the dos and don’ts on the use of loudspeakers.

While the Sena has accused the MNS of acting at the behest of the BJP, Raj Thackeray has said the issue of loudspeakers on mosques is social and not religious. He also announced a visit to the temple town of Ayodhya and performed a ‘Maha aarti’ on Hanuman Jayanti in Pune. Maharashtra Tourism minister and Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya announced his trip to Ayodhya early next month on the same day.

Known to successfully ape his uncle Bal Thackeray, Raj Thackeray is following the optics too and is now being seen with a saffron shawl wrapped around him. He starts his speech with the familiar “Jamlelya majhya tamam Hindu Mata, bhagini ani bhadhu…(Greetings to my Hindu mothers, sisters and brothers), just as Bal Thackeray did.

The MNS has also announced a ‘Maha aarti’ across the state on the occasion of Akshay Tritiya which falls on May 3. Will this be enough to pull him out the electoral doldrums is the question. The MNS was founded in 2006 after Raj Thackeray quit the Shiv Sena over who would be Bal Thackeray’s political heir. He took up the issue of the sons of the soil, the agenda on which the Shiv Sena was built in 1966.

In 2007, in its debut municipal polls, the MNS won seven seats, followed by 27 in 2012— the highest so far for the party in Mumbai, one of its core base areas. In 2017, it won only seven seats.

In 2009, riding on the sons of the soil plank, Raj Thackeray ate into the Shiv Sena-BJP votes in Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik. In the assembly elections in the same year, MNS bagged 13 seats of 288. This paved the way for an easy win for the Congress-NCP.

The 2009 Assembly polls has been the best performance of the MNS so far. It has been a rapid slide since.

In 2014, it contested 219 seats and forfeited its deposit in 209. It won just one seat and bagged 3.15 per cent of the votes. I In the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Raj Thackeray openly advocated the candidature of Narendra Modi for the prime minister’s post and fielded candidates mostly against the Sena. More than a year ahead of the polls, he also visited Gujarat and praised Modi.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Raj Thackeray did a U-turn and took up cudgels against Modi but did not contest the polls. Experts view this as help offered to the Congress-NCP alliance. In the assembly polls held the same year, the MNS contested 101 seats and forfeited its deposit in 86 seats. It bagged only one seat in the state and garnered 2.25 per cent votes.

Prakash Akolkar, senior journalist and author of “Jai Maharashtra – Ha Shiv Sena navacha itihas hain”, a book on the Sena and its evolution, said Raj Thackeray’s aim all along has been to attack his cousin Uddhav Thackeray. “Whatever positions Raj took, his target was Uddhav… Even in shifting to this new(hardline Hindutva), Raj’s target remains Uddhav,” Akolkar said.

Purandare added that Raj Thackeray’s shift to Hindutva politics also comes as several civic bodies, including the cash-rich BMC, known as the lifeline of the Sena, go to the polls this year. Kapil Patil, a research assistant with the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, noted that Raj Thackeray recently had meetings with BJP leaders — state unit chief Chandrakant Patil, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, former Maharashtra minister Ashish Shelar and Union minister Nitin Gadkari.

Raj Thackeray was born to Shrikant Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s younger brother. Growing up in the shadow of his uncle, Raj Thackeray went on to head the Sena’s student wing, the Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena, and was often spoken of as Bal Thackeray’s political heir. His physical appearance, oratory and working style were seen to mirror that of his uncle. Uddhav and Raj are cousins from both sides. Their mothers Meena and Kunda are also siblings.


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