Amid speculations over BJP-MNS friendship, Raj Thackeray’s search for a new pitch
A meeting between former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray amid speculations over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and MNS coming together has become a talking point over the past few days
A meeting between former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray amid speculations over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and MNS coming together has become a talking point over the past few days. Both the leaders denied that such a meeting took place, though there were reports that they met at a common friend’s house in central Mumbai. However, Fadnavis did not rule out any formal or informal alliance with the MNS, and said the BJP would consider any association with the party only if it mends its ways. MNS chief Raj Thackeray has so far maintained silence on the issue. The MNS says Thackeray will reveal his plan on January 23 at a conclave in Mumbai.
The two parties have two options — either forge an alliance or work out a tacit understanding. In case of the BJP, forging a formal alliance with the MNS would mean it may have to give up its north Indian votes as MNS’s violent agitation against north Indian migrants is still a sticking point for any national party, be it the BJP or Congress. On the other hand, an informal alliance or a tacit understanding takes place during polls. Since there is no major election immediately, the two sides still have time to decide.
The BJP would want the MNS to cut into Sena’s vote share and damage the prospects of the three-party ruling alliance, Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA), in the Mumbai metropolitan area as well as other major cities like Pune and Nashik. Since the ruling coalition has planned to contest both the civic body and district council elections together, the BJP would need ways to counter them. Presence of smaller but strong players such as the MNS or Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi could work to the advantage of the party.
As far as the MNS is concerned, it has no option but to look for an ally since it is passing through a difficult time and its survival is at stake. The party is in bad shape, with winning only one seat in state Assembly polls. It has miniscule presence in the civic bodies of major cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nashik. A significant number of its party leaders and prominent workers have deserted the party. As such, the party would need a helping hand to stand again. And that hand could be of the BJP, say the party’s leaders in private.
However, at the same time, Thackeray’s close aides are wary of working on the script prepared by the BJP. They say the BJP had betrayed them in 2014. The MNS, formed by Thackeray in 2006, had won 13 Assembly seats in 2019 following its anti-north Indian agitation. It was a major political entity when Narendra Modi announced his campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and Thackeray was one of the first to support him. With a section of BJP in favour of him, Thackeray was under the impression (or was given an impression) that the BJP would dump the Sena and pick the MNS as ally for 2014 Assembly polls. However, following the huge mandate in Lok Sabha polls, the BJP contested the polls on its own, which came as a shock to the MNS.
The next five years saw Raj Thackeray bitterly criticising PM Modi and the BJP. He chose not to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and supported the Congress-NCP. His rallies became a huge talking point during the elections, though it did not damage the BJP much. With the Congress unwilling to take him on-board, Thackeray again contested on his own in the Assembly elections. In the meanwhile, he was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate for questioning in connection with a deal involving the purchase of land of a defunct textiles mill in Dadar. Thackeray scaled down his attack on Modi-Shah during the Assembly polls. The party could win only one seat.
With the anti-climax in the political drama that saw the Sena ditching the BJP to form a government with the Congress and NCP, the MNS is left without friends and sympathisers. As such, Thackeray is now warming up to the BJP for the second time. He is also likely to tilt towards Hindutva — something he had not done since he launched the party. There are speculations that he may announce his support to National Register of Citizens (NRC), which could come in handy if the two parties have to find common ground in the future to come together.
Will Raj Thackeray take this gamble?