Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray’s flip flop on auto-rickshaw permit is another attempt to take centre stage of politics in the state. Since the 2014 assembly elections, where it took a major beating, the party has been struggling for issues to help it reconnect with the Marathi manoos.
The question is whether politics driven by violence minus the organisational work at grassroot will help him regain lost electoral grounds in the crucial BMC elections in early 2017. At the outset, it is evident that MNS is fighting a battle for survival.
On Saturday, Raj said, “There is no question of withdrawing the agitation. But we have put it on hold following orders from court. And also concerns expressed over possibility of others misusing it to create trouble on streets.”
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Notwithstanding the MNS explanation, the issue that comes to the fore is whether the old tried and tested formula to evoke Marathi plank will elicit mass support?
What evoked MNS provocation is the government’s decision to issue new auto-rickshaw permits. The decision was taken by Shiv Sena minister for transport Diwakar Raote to allocate new permits. The Sena also tried to play the sons-of-the-soil card through this issue which was retaliated by the Congress and NCP.
Almost all political leaders across the party lines and social workers have described MNS as irresponsible especially at a time when lakhs of students are busy with examinations and rickshaw remains the chief mode of transport in Mumbai and the suburbs. Another aspect is whether violence is the only tool to make one’s voice heard in state politics.
Clearing the air, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “Any individual who has resided in the state for 15 years and has working knowledge of Marathi would be eligible for new auto permit.” The chief minister also warned MNS against taking law into their own hands.
At the end of a decade long journey, the electoral graph of MNS has declined almost making it a non-entity in the political spectrum of Maharashtra. The MNS which was at its peak winning 13 seats in the 2009 assembly elections was reduced to one seat in the 2014 polls. The party lost its national status having polled only 3.1 per cent votes.
It was in 2005 that, following sharp differences over political legacy, Raj Thackeray emerged a “dare devil” declaring to part ways from Shiv Sena and launch a separate organisation -MNS. The decision was taken when late Bal Thackeray was alive and holding the remote of the Shiv Sena.
However, MNS almost modelled the organisation on Sena’s style, failed to make inroads in social sectors through its shakhas which remained the constant strength of Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray.
In the last ten years, MNS politics appears to have been overwhelmingly electorally driven without adequate efforts or resourceful investments in expansion of the organisation through work at the ground. What has remained unchanged is its sons-of-the-soil plank evoked ahead of every elections.
In its last election manifesto, MNS unravelled a blueprint with ten top agenda from education to employment to Marathi manoos in the government. But in the last ten years there is not a single agenda which the party workers have been able to wage uninterrupted or take to its logical end.
The signs of warning for Raj Thackeray are in-built in the party, with generation next drifting in absence of concrete long-term programme.