As results trickled in on Sunday, Raj Thackeray, following a counting day practice, reportedly did not watch television, but updates came in anyway. “The mood was quiet, sombre,” says one party leader. As poll pundits called it a washout for the party, there was disbelief among workers in Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Nashik and pockets where the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has built some influence. From 13 MLAs in 2009, the MNS score fell to one. The Marathi voters, it appeared, had declared that the Shiv Sena, whose strength grew from 44 MLAs to 63, was their preferred Sena.
For Raj, 46, this has to be a personal blow. From his oration, replete with risque jokes, to his skill as an illustrator and satirist, from his aggression to his political timing, it was always he, not Uddhav, who was seen as the original inheritor of Bal Thackeray’s legacy. Sunday changed that.
The official line of the party, given by Bala Nand-gaonkar, who lost his own seat from Shivadi, is that they will introspect. But MNS leaders admit that Raj’s recent track record has been abysmal. Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, he set the cat among the pigeons by holding talks with Nitin Gadkari. He then went on to declare that his MPs (none were elected) would support Modi, before fielding candidates selectively against Shiv Sena candidates, irking a central constituent of his support base, the Marathi voter.
It’s complex positioning seen by the common man as wavering policies, says party general secretary Anil Shidore. “Two years ago, Raj travelled to study the Gujarat model of development and said he would like to see Modi as PM. People took this as support for Modi. Ahead of the LS elections, he again said he supports Modi as PM. But this was not support for the political philosophy of the BJP.” But the problem with such nuance is that too many people don’t get it.
Raj had promised a new paradigm of governance, but his so-called Maharashtra blueprint, came too late, just days before the Assembly polls. MNS MLAs had not delivered either.
Moreover, things that attracted those who joined him in 2006 — his liberal attitude, an ignorance of caste cleavages and therefore of caste politics and his keenness to show results — now appeared missing.
It may not be curtains for Raj and the MNS, feel people who know him, even vaguely. But it could be the end of an act. And from Sunday’s result, it appears that it’s the end of his claim to Bal Thackeray’s legacy. The next act could be a reinvented self.