Raj Thackeray 2.0: Tamed by Failures or Armed With New Game Plan?

Raj Thackeray isn’t asking for power, he’s asking to be the Opposition this Maharashtra elections. What has changed?

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Raj Shrikant Thackeray, the man most political pundits had ruled out of the race for Maharashtra, is back in the ring. But has he been reduced to a bit player in Maharashtra politics, or is he back with a new political game plan?

In 2009, Raj Thackeray was confident enough to ask voters to help him come to power. This time around, he is asking to be made a part of the Opposition.

What has changed?

In the 2009 Maharashtra Assembly elections, his party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), won 13 seats. But come 2014, the party was dealt a major blow when it managed to bag just one seat. Eventually, the cadre abandoned the party, it lost touch with ground realities, and soon, the MNS was left to become politically irrelevant.

So, how is ‘Ma-Na-Se Raj karnewala’ Thackeray, after all his failures, planning to pull off a turn of the tide?

Strategic Steps for the Future

The lone MNS MLA from 2014 also switched over to the Shiv Sena last month. So, technically, Raj has neither an MLA nor an MP in the state.

From 27 seats in 2012, the MNS' tally was reduced to just seven in the 2017 BMC elections. Six of the seven later switched to the Shiv Sena.

From 2009 to 2019, such has been the party's decline. Party leaders and corporators left Raj Thackeray one by one, weakening his political position and making the party lose touch with its voters.

This time, though, the MNS seems to have a tactical understanding with the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, which is in alliance with the Congress.

Take for example the crucial Kothrud seat in Pune: the NCP has declared that it won't field a candidate there, but instead would support the MNS candidate.

Meanwhile, in Nasik East, the MNS withdrew its candidate against the NCP. This despite the fact that Nashik was once an MNS stronghold. Under any other circumstances, Raj letting go of a such a dominant seat, especially in Nashik, would have been unimaginable.

‘Baaton Ka Sher’?

Balasaheb-style aggressive speeches, frequent name-calling and a use of provocative vocabulary has kept Raj Thackeray's political fan-following intact. However, people are often left wondering, “What next?”

“Words are not translating into actions” has been a frequent complaint among his voters of late. One might argue that there was little he could have done unless voted to power. But the thing is, the MNS did get a chance to prove itself after winning the Nashik Municipal Corporation elections in 2012.

This, however, didn’t last long. Nashik voters brought MNS' tally down from 40 in 2012 to just five in the 2017 polls. This shows that while his rallies attract thousands and his speeches trigger a rage, the numbers somehow don't necessarily translate into votes.

This time, Raj Thackeray’s plan seems to be to woo voters not only with the audio-visual elements in his speeches, but also by being brutally honest about his goals.

Opposition’s Blue-eyed Boy: A Survival Strategy?

"He's the Opposition's mouthpiece" is what the BJP and the Sena say about Raj, thanks to his viral speeches during the Lok Sabha polls that sought to debunk claims made by the Modi-Fadnavis government using audio-visual evidence.

While Raj strategically said that he’s not campaigning ‘for’ the Opposition but ‘against’ Modi-Shah, his backdoor support to the Opposition got him back into the mainstream political fray. A move that many in the past would not have associated with someone like Raj.

Goonda Raj to Neta Raj?

Laaton ke bhoot baaton se nahi maante,’ has always been a USP of the MNS. While his violent stand against North Indians on Mumbai's streets earned him the tag of 'Goonda Raj,' he seems to have toned it down this time around.

The latest example being his entanglement with the Enforcement Directorate. After he was summoned for questioning by the ED in the IL&FS money laundering case, the MNS cadre called for a bandh across Mumbai. Raj, however, publicly requested them to exercise restraint, calling the move “another tactic by the ruling government” to shut him up.

Raj’s violent narrative in the past didn’t just give him bad press, it also strengthened the perception that while he might be a man who gets things done, he is not necessarily the kind of person you would want in a position of power.

Inaccessible, Rigid

Most of the party leaders that left Raj Thackeray used 'inaccessibility' as their biggest reason. According to political pundits, it's Raj's 'rigidity' that was behind his exclusion from the Opposition alliance in Maharashtra during the recent Lok Sabha elections.

But this time, his tactical pact with the NCP and his onslaught against the BJP-Sena clearly shows his changed political attitude.

Late To the Party?

As seen in the lead up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, as well as the upcoming state elections, the decision on whether Raj's MNS will contest has consistently made headlines, because his would be the last to jump into the fray.

While he did not contest the LS polls, the decision of the party to contest in the upcoming state elections came just a few weeks ago.  The Congress-NCP and the BJP-Sena had already started statewide rallies by then.

Being late to the party not only minimises the impact of his campaigns, but also leaves the cadre with very less time to prepare for the polls.

He, however, is continuing with the anti-Modi-Shah narrative that he had driven before the Lok Sabha polls in May, giving the voters an impression that he had been preparing for the Assembly polls all along.

For the sake of survival, is Raj Thackeray finally playing 'smart politics' or does he still plan to establish his 'Raj,' but apne 'Ma-Na-Se'.

Once at the centre of Maharashtra's state politics, Raj's political fortunes dwindled with time, but with a Thackeray in the fray, don't be so sure of ruling him out just yet.

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