In an attempt to fill the “political void” created by the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP alliance, Raj Thackeray is going for a major reboot of his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to position it as a regional-cum-Hindutva party.
The move has been planned with an eye on attracting disgruntled Shiv Sainiks as well as Hindutva supporters, who are reportedly disillusioned with the Sena’s decision to join hands with the Congress and the NCP, which espouse the secular cause.
As part of its reboot, the MNS is set to unveil its newly designed saffron flag. Its earlier flag, unveiled in 2006, consisted of saffron, green and blue stripes, representative of Hindus, Muslims and Dalits. The new flag will be all saffron with the seal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj embossed in the middle. Raj Thackeray will also address MNS workers, who are expected to converge in Mumbai from across the state.
The BJP is also keen to prop up the MNS as a counter to the Sena. Several BJP leaders, including former CM Devendra Fadnavis, have held meetings with Raj Thackeray in recent weeks. The BJP in public has, however, claimed it has no plans of having any alliance with the MNS, which has in the past taken a stand against North Indian migrants.
“The true followers of Balasaheb need not be disheartened. This game of power will go on shamelessly. Now is the time to grab the MNS flag in hand. Join the MNS on Balasaheb’s birthday,” MNS leader Ameya Khopkar said.
The Raj Thackeray-led party’s fortunes have been on a decline and it has been able to win only one seat in Kalyan Rural, where Pramod Ratan Patil emerged winner. The win, however, remains facile for the MNS, which has steadily been losing its base in the state. Its vote share has been in a free fall from the heady days of 2014 when it managed to win 13 seats polling 5.71 per cent of the votes. This share dropped to 3.1 per cent in 2009 when it won one seat and has now further come down to 2.30 per cent.
MNS leaders believe hardcore Shiv Sainiks, who are troubled with the Sena’s decision to jump onto the secular bandwagon, may desert the Sena to support the MNS. There is also a feeling that the BJP, with massive financial and logistical clout, may prop the MNS as a counterfoil to the Sena. MNS leaders have also indicated they could join hands with the BJP.
Raj Thackeray, who had floated the MNS in 2006 after splitting from the Shiv Sena, had won 13 seats in the 2009 Assembly election. Since then, his party spiralled downwards losing members as well as popularity.
A one-time avid supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Raj Thackeray has over the years had a fallout with the BJP since it came to power in 2014. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the MNS chief had been increasingly critical of the BJP and had campaigned for the Congress-NCP in the state.
After initially saying it won’t contest the Assembly polls, the MNS fielded 101 candidates in the polls.
Raj Thackeray’s aggressive style of campaigning was severely fettered with many perceiving this to the ED notice slapped on him in a money laundering case. The party won only one seat.
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