Updated: April 20, 2022 4:09:46 pm
Speaking at a rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on April 2, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray raised the issue of loudspeakers in mosques, and warned that if they were not removed by May 3, his party would play the “Hanuman Chalisa” on loudspeakers installed outside mosques. Since then, he has lost no opportunity to bring up the issue.
While the MNS’s threat is in line with its hardline Hindutva position, this time, Raj Thackeray’s statements are as much directed at the Shiv Sena as it has been made with an eye on the party’s rapidly shrinking vote base ahead of the crucial local body elections, including to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Sources in the Shiv Sena admit the MNS chief’s remarks are being viewed with concern as they may end up damaging the Sena’s prospects in a handful of seats. “The MNS may not make much gains in the upcoming civic bodies polls. But the party may end up playing spoiler. Even if an MNS candidate gets, say, 500 or 1,000 votes, it will affect us as seats in municipal elections are won by narrow margins. So every vote counts,” a senior Sena leader told The Indian Express.
In the 227-member BMC, whose term ended in the first week of March, the Shiv Sena, which has been ruling the civic body for more than two decades, had 97 corporators, the BJP had 80, Congress 29, NCP 8 and Samajwadi Party 6.
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The term of 10 municipal corporations, including Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, Nashik, Nagpur, and 25 zilla parishads had ended in March, and administrators were appointed to run these local bodies. The municipal polls, including to the BMC, were deferred after the state government amended the laws to ensure OBC quota in the local bodies. Since local body elections need to be held within six months from the appointment of the administrators, the polls are likely to be held before September.
At his Shivaji Park speech, Raj Thackeray had also accused his cousin and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray of “betraying” the BJP and voters for the sake of the CM’s post.
The Sena hit back, with its senior leader and MP Sanjay Raut accusing the MNS of running the BJP’s agenda and alleging that the loudspeaker issue, among others, was being raked up by the MNS as part of its preparations for the upcoming local bodies polls.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Sena leader, however, said the MNS’s impact would be limited to a handful of seats and not across Mumbai, Thane and other cities. “Only voters who are unhappy with the Sena for joining hands with the Congress and NCP, and don’t look at the BJP as an alternative, may vote for the MNS. But this number is very small. So the MNS’s impact will be limited to a handful of seats and not across cities,” the leader said.
The MNS’s biggest success since its formation in 2006 was in the 2009 Assembly elections, when it won 13 seats. Later, in the 2012 BMC polls, the party won 28 seats. The MNS also emerged as the single-largest party in the 122-member Nashik Municipal Corporation, winning 40 seats, and getting the mayor’s post with the BJP’s support.
However, its performance has been on a decline since 2014. In the 2014 and 2019 Assembly elections, the MNS won one seat each. In the 2017 municipal corporation elections, the MNS won seven seats in the BMC but six of its corporators defected to Sena soon after. It also lost power in the Nashik civic body in 2017.
“The MNS’s stand on multiple issues has been inconsistent – from its initial stand on Marathi manoos and Marathi pride to now taking up the Hindutva agenda, from supporting PM Narendra Modi in 2014 to criticising him in 2019… People are well aware of this. The MNS may not gain much,” said another Sena leader.
The leader said Sena founder the late Balasaheb Thackeray too had spoken out against loudspeakers in mosques. “But, we are not taking an aggressive stand on the issue now because if something happens, the CM will be held responsible for law and order. So we are treading cautiously on the issue,” added the leader.
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