Raj Thackeray’s “ae lav re toh video” (hey, play the video) campaign to fact-check Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims had boosted the Opposition’s otherwise insipid campaign during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Six months later, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief is readying himself for a rather subdued role in the upcoming Assembly elections.
After the resounding victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, Thackeray is said to have contemplated staying away from electoral politics till ballot papers replace the electronic voting machines (EVMs). But his partymen’s insistence that stepping back from electoral politics would sound the death knell for the party is said to have forced Thackeray to field 103 candidates across Maharashtra.
“A section of leaders were of the view that the MNS should not contest the polls. Some of them pointed to the Enforcement Directorate probe against the MNS chief and a few other leaders, while others said there will be no point in fighting polls on EVMs,” a party leader, who did not want to be named, said.
Another leader, however, said the party decided to contest the Assembly polls after several leaders from Mumbai and other parts of the state insisted that the party should contest to stay relevant. “The MNS chief will address around 20 rallies across the state. But, there will not be videos this time, like we had shown during the Lok Sabha polls. He might continue to attack the BJP-led governments,” the leader added.
Interestingly, although Thackeray had unwillingly committed to the MNS contesting the elections, his high-voltage style of campaigning has given way to an under-the-radar approach.
In 2009 Assembly polls, the MNS won 13 seats, but it is currently down to zero after having lost its only MLA, who won in 2014, to the Shiv Sena. Its Assembly polls vote share fell from 5.71 per cent in 2009 to 3.1 per cent in 2014.
While MNS leaders are tight-lipped on how the party would perform in the Assembly polls, they are hopeful of benefiting from a tacit understanding with the NCP on a few seats. “We will have a tacit understanding with the NCP on a few seats where we will help each other. So, we feel that it will help us and the NCP,” the leader said.
Rain washes out MNS rally in Pune
MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s first election rally in Pune was cancelled Wednesday after heavy rainfall led to severe waterlogging at the venue. The rain, party sources said, started just before the rally was scheduled to be held at Sarswati Vidya Mandir ground.
The MNS, which was struggling to get a venue for the event, was earlier trying to hold the rally in Kothrud Assembly constituency, but failed. It had accused private property owners, mainly educational institutes with playground, for deliberately not allotting the MNS a ground to hold the rally.
“The educational institutes are governed by persons having close association with the BJP, and they had deliberately not given us a ground for the election rally,” MNS leader Bala Shedge had said.
The party reportedly had got the permission to hold the rally at Saraswati Vidya Mandir ground two days back and started preparation on a short notice. Tuesday’s rain, however, had multiplied their woes, forcing party workers to put in efforts to dry the ground ahead of the rally.
On Wednesday, supporters who had gathered for Thackeray’s rally had to run for cover as heavy rainfall lashed the city.
The MNS is contesting on three seats in Pune City, including Kothrud Assembly seat where it is in a direct contest with state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil. It is also contesting from Kasba peth and Hadapsar assembly seats.