The MNS, self-styled guardian of Marathi interests, has transformed Maharashtra’s electoral dynamics, says Rana Ayyub
THE MAGIC wave of the Congress has not missed Mumbai, or rather, most parts of Maharashtra. The Congress-NCP alliance routed the Shiv Sena-BJP from the urban areas of Mumbai, Nasik and Thane, sweeping all six parliamentary constituencies in Mumbai. The victory, though, has also brought with it several significant developments in Maharashtra politics, and the results contain indicators of the probable outcomes of the assembly elections to be held in early October. An unlikely hero of the Lok Sabha elections is none other than Raj Thackeray, the man who was labelled as a shortterm wonder after his status as the charismatic messiah of the Marathi manoos seemed to have faded. However, Raj Thackeray and his three-year old party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a breakaway faction of the Shiv Sena, proved that it was a force to reckon with by giving a jolt to the Sena, its key opponent and one of the most powerful parties in Maharashtra.
Analysis shows that the Congress-NCP won at least eight seats because of the MNS
While the MNS, in its maiden Lok Sabha venture, did not win any seat, it compensated by coming a respectable second or third runner-up in most of the 12 seats it contested. It also caused a number of Congress-NCP victories in some of the most difficult seats by dividing Marathi votes, which would have otherwise gone en bloc to the Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray rose to prominence after launching a massive tirade against north Indians in the city after realising that this would be his route to popularity. The 12 seats the MNS fought were carefully chosen — they were all in urban Mumbai, Nasik and Thane areas in which the Shiv Sena was dominant but which had seen an increasing number of people opting to become MNS cadres. At a press conference after the results were declared, Raj Thackeray dared his archrivals to contemplate the result had he contested all 48 seats. The Marathi issue turned out to be important for the youth, which made up at least 30 percent of the electorate, the same youth whose rights the MNS claimed to be standing up for. The Shiv Sena was unable to connect with voters on this issue.
The MNS got more than 1 lakh votes in every seat and picked up an impressive 20 percent vote share in Mumbai itself. An analysis of the numbers showed that the Congress-NCP managed to win at least eight seats because of the MNS. Mumbai South, perhaps one of the most contentious seats after the 26/11 attacks, saw very strong contenders, including Shiv Sena strongman Mohan Rawale. However, it was the Congress’ Milind Deora who won by a margin of 1.12 lakh votes, with the MNS’ Bala Nandgaonkar playing the spoiler for the Sena by getting 1.5 lakh votes. The scenario was the same for most of the seats where the Sena had its hopes pinned, including the Thane and Bhiwandi seats which the Congress-NCP won due to the division of votes caused by the MNS. In areas where its candidates could not directly influence the numbers, the MNS’ virulent campaign against north Indians did the trick. The Mumbai Northwest seat, in which north Indian voters are dominant, saw Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress consolidating north Indian votes. The Shiv Sena, which was in denial about the MNS being a strong contender, is now in a state of shock. Speaking to TEHELKA, Bharat Kumar Raut, a Shiv Sena MP said that his party had underestimated the MNS. “We knew that the MNS had hijacked our issue and was trying to lure our vote bank but we did not think that it would divide our votes to such an extent.” Having tasted success with the Lok Sabha elections, the party is now looking at fielding as many candidates as it can in the forthcoming assembly elections. Shishir Shinde, the party president of the MNS said, “Seeing what we have managed to do in Maharashtra, our sympathisers in the Shiv Sena will now openly join us. We are looking at poaching as many youths as we can, not just from the Shiv Sena but also from other parties.”
SHIV SENA chief Uddhav Thackeray has tried to downplay the Raj Thackeray effect and has blamed the results on the Congress’ resurgence. Ironically, where once the Shiv Sena was looking forward to the BSP and the SP splitting the Congress’ vote, it now found itself on the back foot even as those parties fared miserably. Another loss for the Shiv Sena was the marked absence of Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, the man who had single-handedly brought about the rise of the Sena, since he has been bed-ridden for the past year. Senior journalist and editor of the Lokmat group Dinkar Raikar points out that the coterie that surrounds Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav Thackeray has led him to wrong decisions. “He does not connect with his party men and they have no access to him. He is surrounded by a clique of young leaders who have alienated him from the outside world,” he says about Uddhav, who is seen as lacking the charisma that gave Bal Thackeray his status amongst Marathi speakers.
While the Shiv Sena has woken up to the threat of the MNS in the assembly elections, the NCP, which received a setback by failing to retain some seats and losing major seats in its stronghold of western Maharashtra, is also introspecting. Once seen as a kingmaker, the NCP is in no position to call the shots, as is evident from party chief Sharad Pawar’s statement that only the Congress had the right to the PM’s post.
The dismal performance of the NCP could also forge realignments, with senior Congress leaders such as Vilasrao Deshmukh and Balasaheb Vikhe Patil saying that the party should not enter into any alliances for the assembly elections. While the NCP has expressed faith in the alliance, analysts disagree. “There is a strong possibility that the NCP will ally with the MNS, now that the Congress has hinted that it will go solo. The BJP might also want to go solo after its dismal performance in the state and now that its differences (with the Shiv Sena) have become obvious,” says Raikar, adding, “A BJP-MNS alliance also cannot be ruled out.”
Both the Shiv Sena and the NCP are waking up to the growing threat from the MNS
The Congress, however, has several reasons to be happy. After improving its tally from 13 to 17, it seems even to have withstood the criticism it attracted after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan — a man who is known to believe in working inclusively — was brought in to bring about change and had promised Sonia Gandhi that his state would try to get the maximum number of votes. In a way, he has passed his litmus test and will now play a key role in deciding the Congress’ strategy for the impending state elections.