Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ( MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s protest rally on Tuesday early afternoon in Mumbai to protest against the violence at Azad Maidan on 11 August, in which two people were killed and over 50 injured, was a perfect master stroke in Maharashtra politics.
Raj Thackeray’s rally bewildered the Shiv Sena, damaged the image of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and thereby gave Congress an opportunity to seek revenge over its ally, NCP in the Democratic Front (DF) whom Raj Thackeray shredded to pieces at this rally. Raj Thackeray outsmarted the Shiv Sena with his charismatic and aggressive political rally to politically score over his cousin and Sena’s CEO Uddhav Thackeray by aggressively lambasting Home Minister Patil and NCP’s failure to contain the violence, the brutal attack on police personnel and for protecting the organisers of the 11 August rally from arrest.
Raj Thackeray displayed his sharp political acumen by shrewdly turning the tables on the NCP — to the advantage of the Congress — by vehemently attacking Patil and holding him responsible for the violence, while he intentionally avoided specifically criticising the DF government and the Congress for failing to contain the violence. It was as good as Raj Thackeray gave the Congress a clean chit and hanging Patil and the NCP for abetting the 11 August riot and supporting illegal Bangladeshi and north Indian migrants at the cost of the sons-of-the-soil in Maharashtra.
The outbreak of violence at the 11 August rally had already badly backfired for Patil and NCP. The 11 August rally was organised to highlight and express the anguish and plight of the minorities in Assam in the Congress- ruled state and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government maintaining a stoic silence on the genocide of minorities in Myanmar, was addressed by Raza Academy’s Saeed Noorie and Maulana Syed Moen Khan, who are known to be associated with Patil and his party colleague Chhagan Bhujbal. Former Assistant Commissioner of Police, Shamsher Pathan, who heads theAwami Vikas Party and is known to be close Bhujbal also shared the dias where speakers lashed out at the Congress, accusing the Congress of turning a blind eye to unabated violence allegedly perpetrated on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.
The outbreak of violence the 11 August rally to influence the minority vote bank against the Congress in Maharashtra, severely damaged Patil’s image as the state’s Home Minister and in fact paved the way for political rivals from the Bhartiya Janata Party, Sena and MNS to demand Patil’s head.
On Monday evening, even while the Mumbai police were hesitant to grant permission to the MNS to hold the rally, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan assured Raj Thackeray when the latter had telephonically spoken to him by saying, ” In democracy every political party has the right to hold a rally”.
His vitriolic attack on Patil for soft peddling on arresting leaders of the Raza Academy and eleven other organisations who had organised the 11 August protest rally, and repeated demand for Patil and Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik’s head, created an impact on not only 60,000 supporters but even 15,000 policemen positioned outside the venue to maintain law and order.
The highly successful rally organised recently in Mumbai by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ( MNS) may not convert into big votes at this moment since the polls are nearly 2 years away, but it has definitely tested the waters and will facilitate massive consolidation of Raj Thackeray’s position inMaharashtra’s political arena in the coming years.
The highly-successful rally organised by MNS may not convert into big votes at this moment since the polls are nearly 2 years away, but it has definitely tested the waters and will facilitate massive consolidation of Raj Thackeray’s position in Maharashtra’s political arena in the coming years.
The overwhelming support his impressive and forceful speech attacking Patil and indirectly taking on the NCP, whom he accused of backing the unpatriotic designs of fundamentalist leaders to create unrest in Mumbai, and keeping the crowd spell bound with his oration, has made him a force to reckon with in Maharashtra. The credit for the rally ending on a peaceful note goes to Raj Thackeray who appeared to have complete control over 60,000 supporters who had travelled to Mumbai in around 150 trucks from Aurangabad, Nashik and Pune.
He even created an impression on the constabulary who were the prime target of the violent at the 11 August rally, where around 45 policemen were reportedly injured while quelling the armed protestors, and projected himself to be a protector of the police force which came under a severe armed attack at the 11 August rally. The impact of Raj Thackeray’s speech could be gauged when a police constable, Pramod Tawde, walking up to the dias after Raj Thackeray concluded his speech, saluted him, handed over a flower and complimented him for his impressive speech and for professing his support to the police.
Raj Thackeray touched the right cord of the people who had laid a peaceful siege at Azad Maidan by publicly affirming that he is a protector of MaharashtraDharma and not Hindutva. This was more a dig at Uddhav Thackeray who at the Shiv Sena’s protest rally at Azad Maidan organised a day earlier, strongly emphasised the Sena upholding Hindu Dharma and supporting the Hindutva movement. In other words, in a single stroke he disassociated himself politically from the Sena and put to total rest speculation making the rounds that he had mended the political fence with Uddhav Thackeray and the Sena.
The immense response has made the young Turks in the Sena leadership sit up and analyse their failure to put a check on the growing tentacles of Raj Thackeray and MNS. An ageing second rung Sena leadership comprising of a former Lok Sabha speaker and Sena MLA can neither fathom nor amend strategies, along with Uddhav Thackeray, to checkmate Raj Thackeray’s growing popularity among the Marathi youth, nor infuse fresh blood into the now mellow image of one-time a fiery Sena.
The crowds at Raj Thackeray’s Monday rally outnumbered the Sena’s annual Dassera rally at Shivaji Park addressed by Bal Thackeray which has drawn huge crowds of Saniks from all over the state for the last over forty years.
Raj Thackeray fully capitalised on the prevalent political void created in the Sena against the backdrop of supremo Bal Thackeray’s precarious health and Udhhav Thackeray recuperating from a cardiac ailment. While Uddhav Thackeray only meowed like a cat the previous day. Raj Thackeray roared like a tiger at the same venue. His thundering speech and charismatic youth leader appeal left a strong impression on his supporters mind.
Raj Thackeray played the anti-migrant card to the hilt charging, “Outsiders and illegal Bangladeshi migrants” for unleashing violence at Azad Maidan on 11 August. He hijacked Sena’s political campaign of protecting the interests of sons-of-the soil in Maharashtra by categorically saying he was protesting against illegal Bangladeshi nationals and migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkahnd unleashing violence on 11 August and the issue was not Hindu and Muslim.
He spoke with fire in his belly like his paternal uncle Bal Thackeray did in the 1970s till ill health confined him indoors around five years ago. Crowds comprising a majority of young people, were awed by Raj Thackeray’s well chiseled speech tinged with satire, theatrics and body language. He turned out to be a crowd puller, fearless leader and mass base politician compared to the dismal show put up by Udhhav Thackeray and the Sena which had organised a rally twenty four hours earlier. This is where Raj Thackeray scored huge brownie points over Udhhav and his Shiv Sena cubs and created massive, irreparable damage to the Sena and blemished Uddhav’s mass leader label.
From the Monday rally, he emerged as a leader of the sons-of-the-soil and consolidated his position in MNS strongholds in Nashik, Pune and Aurangabad, and even in Mumbai and Thane where the political base of the MNS is rapidly consolidating with time.
Time will tell just how successful Raj Thackeray has been. But in the meantime, Raj Thackeray with his MNS are spreading their tentacles into the Sena and he is skillfully luring young Sainiks to join MNS ranks with his typical Bal Thackeray- style of running the Sena, giving opportunities to young talent to grow in the party, but running it with an iron fist.
Raj Thackeray and star performance of the MNS has definitely opened the exodus doors for disillusioned Saniks to trickle in gradually. The Sena needs to seriously rejuvenate the organisation and create a young dynamic leadership to stop the MNS in its stride, stop the luring of sons-of-the-soil into its fold.