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Last Updated : Jan 14, 2020 04:55 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Ideological shift or tacit support to BJP? MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s next move awaited

Raj Thackeray is expected to make a major announcement regarding MNS’ strategy at a party conclave on January 23. Reports suggest the party may shift its ideological position to Hindutva

File image
File image

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, on January 7, met senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai. While it was unclear as to what they discussed, the meeting sparked speculation in political circles about a potential alliance between the two sides.

The meeting also came days after BJP workers in Palghar reportedly put up a banner with picture of Raj along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Fadnavis and other local leaders. The banner was put up as part of the campaign for the upcoming Zilla Parishad polls there.

MNS is reportedly looking to shift its ideological stand to Hindutva. While Raj Thackeray started his political career from his uncle Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena – a Hindutva political organisation – MNS’ ideology since its inception only reflected ‘Marathi asmita (pride)’.

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Reports now suggest that Raj is also planning to formalise the ideological re-branding by changing the party flag colours from saffron, blue and green to just saffron.

While BJP leaders had skipped Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s swearing-in as the chief minister in November, Raj had attended the function held at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park – a venue with great importance to both the Sena and MNS. Uddhav’s gesture to invite Raj was largely seen as a thaw between the two Thackerays.

BJP ally Republic Party of India - Athawale (RPI-A)’s chief Ramdas Athawale said that the saffron party will suffer politically if it joins hands with MNS.

The Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister said: “The Republican Party of India (A) is firmly with the BJP and the party is getting Dalit support. Hence, MNS support is not required as its politics is regional. Due to the aggressive stand taken by MNS against Hindi-speaking migrants, a national party like BJP will suffer."

Raj is now expected to make a major announcement regarding MNS’ strategy at a party conclave on January 23 -- the birth anniversary of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

According to reports, the MNS may now support the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed pan-India National Register of Citizen (NRC).

Earlier in December, Raj had said illegal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have settled in India deserve to be "thrown" out, claiming they pose an unnecessary burden on the country.

"These migrants go and scatter all over the country. The states have to bear their loads. They take away the jobs of the local youth. Such migrants from anywhere should be driven out of the country," Raj had said while addressing the media.

However, he had also questioned the manner in which CAA and NRC were going to be implemented amid reports that Aadhaar card and passport many not be valid proof of citizenship.

He had also taken a jibe at Union Home Minister Amit Shah for “playing this game. With this one move, (CAA-NRC), all attention has been diverted from the economic crisis gripping the country."

Turning 180-degrees?

Raj was one of the first regional leaders to back Modi before the 2014 election. An article in the Hindustan Times suggests that Raj was hoping to ally with the BJP during the 2014 Assembly election by dumping the Sena. However, the BJP contested alone.

MNS distanced itself from BJP in the subsequent five years, with Raj attacking the Modi and Fadnavis-led governments at the Centre and in the state.

During the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Raj actively campaigned against BJP even though he did not field any candidates from his party. He lent tacit support to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance instead.

Having come under pressure from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over a deal involving the purchase of land of a defunct textiles mill in Mumbai, Raj ran a relatively low-key campaign during the 2019 Assembly polls. Openly seeking to be a “strong opposition” in the state assembly, the party managed to win just one seat.

With no major election happening in the near future, MNS could get space to carry out this reported manoeuvre. The next set of elections will be the local body polls in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik in 2022.

MNS would be hoping to chip away some of the core Sena voters who may have been upset with their party joining hands with rivals Congress and NCP to form the state government. This could work in BJP’s interest, especially where the Sena has a strong base such as western Maharashtra.

Potential challenges

However, such an MNS-BJP alliance may be tricky for both sides. In Maharashtra’s urban areas, especially in Mumbai, BJP is seen as a party close to Gujaratis and North Indians. This could also have a negative impact on BJP in other parts of the country, including Bihar, where assembly election is due for later this year.

MNS on the other hand is known for its ‘Marathi manoos (sons-of-the-soil)’ identity. The party could also find it difficult to convince as to why it had allied with the BJP having vehemently attacked it until very recently.

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First Published on Jan 14, 2020 04:55 pm
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