IN 2009, when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was at its peak, party chief Raj Thackeray speaking from his bastion of Shivaji Park had given a sample of his satire-packed oratory, lashing out at migrants and espousing the ‘sons of the soil’ cause. He had spoken of change, galvanising the audience.
Seven years later, with efforts to turn around the beleaguered party’s fortunes having failed and with the critical election to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation looming, Thackeray will return to his bulwark Friday.
For the MNS rally in Shivaji Park to mark Gudi Padwa, the party is pulling out all stops to make a renewed pitch and recreate the 2009 high among its volunteers, and onlookers.
The party has already circulated a Raj Thackeray video, talking about MNS’s achievements over the past ten years — forcing Marathi signage on shops and restaurants, generating employment for Marathi youth and opposing toll booths. Banners and hoardings inviting people to experience Raj Bhasha have sprung up in parts of the city, auto-rickshaws with loudspeakers and tempos with the rally’s banners have been doing the rounds. Also, the MNS’s office-bearers are campaigning aggressively at the local level.
Senior MNS leader Shalini Thackeray said, “The on-ground preparation for the rally is similar to the preparation we do for an election. Every rally of Raj saheb is important for us, but this is definitely special. It is on the shivteertha, for the first time after 2009. It is our home pitch. There is a huge emotional connect.”
She added that party workers have been given informal targets. Volunteers are going door-to-door distributing pamphlets. Every MNS shakha for the past ten days has held public gatherings to tell people about the significance of Thackeray speaking at Shivaji Park, also Shiv Sena’s home turf, after a long time.
Arvind Gawde, an MNS leader from Colaba, said from the Colaba ward alone, the party is arranging for 20 buses to take people to Shivaji Park. “The numbers are only growing. This is not just in Mumbai. There are large contingents coming from Kolhapur, Thane, Nashik, Pune and other areas,” he said. MNS leaders said on an average, the party is arranging for 70-80 buses from each of Mumbai’s 36 assembly constituencies, and volunteers from outside the city have booked train coaches to bring their cadre to Shivaji Park.
At every boarding point, party leaders plan to arrange for dhol, tashas, and gulaal, to bring their volunteers in all pomp. Virendra Tandel, the party’s sitting corporator from Mahim, said, “MNS supporters from its homeground of Dadar and Mahim will head to Shivaji Park in a grand procession with a minimum of 500 karyakartas, dhol, tashas, gulaal, fireworks.”
The party had made a mark in the 2012 BMC polls, harping on the ‘sons of the soil’ ploy. It won 28 seats in the 227-member house, but more importantly showed its might by completely dislodging the Shiv Sena from its stronghold of Dadar and Mahim, winning all seven corporator wards of the area. However, the party’s electoral fortunes have plummeted since, which Thackeray has shrugged off saying even Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Jawaharlal Nehru had bad patches in their careers.
However, as the party tries to recover from its rout in the Lok Sabha and state assembly polls, followed by a drubbing in the Kalyan-Dombivli civic elections, it is grappling with an internal challenge of defectors.
Recently, at least three MNS corporators from Nashik joined the Shiv Sena. In Mumbai too, several corporators and their families are looking to sever ties with the stressed MNS.
Recently, Bala Chavan, husband of Geeta Chavan, an MNS corporator from Santacruz, joined Shiv Sena. Sources say Prakash Darekar, also a party corporator from Dahisar, is just waiting for the “right time” to join the BJP. His brother Pravin Darekar had shifted to BJP after the assembly polls.
A BJP corporator said a dozen MNS corporators are in touch with BJP. “We are drawing a list of other candidates who came second in wards where the BJP is not strong,” he said.