While the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has withdrawn its protest against Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, party president Raj Thackeray has been quick to claim victory over the entire episode, taking credit for ‘forcing’ a commitment from producers on not working with Pakistani artistes, and securing money for the Army Welfare Fund.
The win will come as a major shot in the arm for the MNS, bracing for an acid test in the Mumbai municipal polls in early 2017. Sources in the party confirmed plans to market the ‘compromise’ thrashed out with the filmmakers as an achievement in the run-up to the election.
“In the past, our political rivals have accused us of raising an issue and not taking it to the logical conclusion. That can’t be said in this case,” a senior MNS leader said.
While many of the issues the party took up in the past fizzled out, with popular sentiment in favour of banning Pakistani actors, leaders feels this time, their cause would find resonance with the voters. The ‘victory’ would also enthuse its own rank and file, which has been feeling disenchanted for some time now.
“The government was forced to take a stand on the issue following our protests. Also, the filmmakers have submitted to our demands. This is definitely our victory. The party will use it in the build-up to the civic polls,” a senior MNS functionary said.
Also, say political observers, the chief minister stepping in to broker a peace deal between Johar and Thackeray has given a lot to worry about to the Shiv Sena. During the Mumbai civic polls in 2007 and 2012, the MNS, which had been given a long rope by the Congress-NCP regime, had managed to significantly dent the Sena’s vote bank in Mumbai. However, the fortunes of Raj Thackeray’s party have been on a downslide since.
Its performance in the 2014 state elections was dismal, and it has witnessed a spate of desertions by its popular leaders. While the Mumbai municipal corporation is vital to its electoral fortunes, the party’s strength in the 227-member house has dipped to 22 from 28, with some of its corporators recently switching loyalties. The party’s troubles are evident from the fact that its sole MLA, Sharad Sonawane, (Pune’s Junnar assembly constituency) has floated his own outfit for the upcoming local body polls in his locality.
Following the meeting, even as Raj Thackeray declared victory, maintaining that it was Fadnavis ‘who had approached him for the compromise’, the party too was in need of an exit route out of the controversy. Earlier this week, the police had arrested 12 of its party workers for threatening cinema hall owners against screening the film. A similar ploy to get political mileage out of the pothole crisis had backfired recently, with two party corporators even facing jail.
MNS leaders said this time, the party was left with no choice but to walk out of the row. “With elections around the corner, we just cannot afford criminal cases being filed against partymen,” a senior leader said.
MNS Protests and U-Turns
*October 2008: MNS clashed with migrant North Indians saying that it wants more jobs for what it calls the “sons of the soil” and greater respect from Mumbaikers. Later, the party maintained that it did not order the violence and it was a spontaneous outburst arising out of aggrieved Maharashtrian pride.
*February 2014: The MNS launched a statewide agitation against toll booths and plazas. While the MNS demanded a time-bound policy to close down toll plazas, the agitation was called off after the then chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, provided an assurance of bringing in a policy on it.
*August 2014: After MNS received a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray had announced that he and his party would contest the assembly elections in Maharashtra. In a U-turn later, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray ruled out contesting the Assembly election, saying that he does not want to “limit” himself to one constituency.
*March 2016: Raj Thackeray, speaking at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of MNS, told supporters to burn autorickshaws and keep pursuing the ‘Marathi’ agenda. After drawing flak from across the country over his remarks, MNS president Raj Thackeray then decided to call off the agitation.