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MNS on the brink: Raj Thackeray faces unprecedented revolt from party leaders

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 24 April 2017, 20:03 IST
(PTI photo)

When Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena five decades ago, he made sure he had complete command over the party till he passed away. Even though he passed on the day-to-day running of the party to his son Uddhav, no leader in the Shiv Sena ever dared argue with him.

Both Uddhav and Thackeray's nephew Raj, who founded the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in 2006, have followed in his footsteps and ruled their parties with iron fists. But now, Raj seems to be losing his grip on the leaders and workers within the MNS.

The MNS has faced a series of debacles in every election since the 2014 Assembly polls. And at an introspection meeting at Raj's residence last week, when party leaders were accused of not performing, they in turn blamed Raj for not being active enough during the campaign for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) polls. Many young leaders have demanded the removal of all the senior leaders who hold key positions in the party, due to the poor performances.

The MNS was booted out of power in the Nashik Municipal Corporation, and its performance in the MCGM and other civic body polls too was dismal.

What happened at the meeting

Soon after the meeting began, Raj started taking other leaders to task, and fixing responsibility.

But as he took them to task, sources said the restless leaders suddenly burst out and started blaming the top party leadership for fielding the wrong candidates in the MCGM elections.

“The leaders, who were blamed for poor performances, in turn blamed Raj Thackeray and other high ranking leaders for their blunders in selecting candidates for the MCGM elections. It was something unexpected. No leader had ever dared to cross Raj Thackeray, in whatever situation. But the atmosphere of the meeting suddenly heated up, and the leaders burst out at even Raj,” sources said.

The MNS had emerged as a strong option for the 'Marathi manoos' in Mumbai after the Shiv Sena diluted its stand on the issue over the years as it expanded on a national level.

When Raj parted ways with the Shiv Sena in 2006 and formed the MNS, it gave high hopes to Marathi people in Mumbai. The subsequent issues such as toll collection that Raj took up appealed to the common man. This reflected in MNS's performance in the Assembly elections in 2009, when 13 of its candidates won the polls. Then, it swept the Nashik Municipal Corporation.

However, its fortunes changed soon after. By 2014, it was reduced to just one MLA in the state Assembly.

Young leaders' revolt

The meeting held at Raj's residence, Krishna Kunj, was an effort to revive the party, and give impetus to its cadres. But the meeting ended with a blame game, and youth leaders demanding a change of guard.

“There is a general perception among the youth leaders and party cadres that seniors who are holding the reins have completely failed to take the party to new heights. This has led to large scale discontent among the youth leaders,” sources said.

The unrest among the young leadership was highlighted when president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Chitrapat Sena, the Bollywood wing of MNS, Ameya Khopkar, recalled one of Raj's statements from 2006, and asked via Twitter when it would be applied to the party. The quote he recalled was: “Contentious positive change is a sign of growth.”

The tweet had sent shockwaves among party leaders. Before they could come to terms with what was happening, former corporator and firebrand youth leader from Dadar, Sandip Deshpande, retweeted it. This started the debate within the MNS about the inefficiency of the leaders.

Neither leader could be reached for comment.

Analysts' view

The MNS today stands on the verge of total collapse, and it's a result of faulty policies and careless leadership.

Senior journalist and political analyst Abhay Deshpande says: “The biggest challenge for Raj is to keep his flock together. The party has no future, and hence, leaders are restless. Raj quit the Shiv Sena alleging that those around Bal Thackeray did not allow people to meet him. His partymen are saying the same thing about him. Almost all the party leaders present in the meeting at his residence complained that Raj had become highly inaccessible. This is a warning bell for him. The party can disintegrate rapidly if Raj does not mend his ways.”

Senior journalist and political analyst Kumar Ketkar agrees.

“This is a major development that will decide the fate of the MNS. Raj has lost the moral authority to lead the party. The moral authority here depends on political factors and the ability to lead and govern. Raj has lost it. He is never consistent on any issue, and is completely detached from his own party leaders. Raj has not taken any movement to its logical conclusion. Once, he was diehard fan of Narendra Modi. He visited Gujarat along with a battery of senior editors from Mumbai, and felicitated Modi, who was then CM of Gujarat. After that, he became a campaigner for Modi. Now, suddenly, over the last one year, Raj has become the biggest critic of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” he says.

Ketkar feels that Raj has no leadership quality, no vision and no consistent political stand.

Raj is trapped in a self-created stagnation, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Ketkar says.

First published: 24 April 2017, 20:03 IST