By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, March 5 (IANS) After sulking on the sidelines for nearly 13 years, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray is likely to announce his entry into an opposition alliance on Saturday, marking the 13th anniversary of the party’s founding.
The excitement among top, middle and ground-level leaders and activists is almost palpable amidst anticipation that he may make finally opt to join the united opposition front, paving the way for the MNS to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
“Today, Raj-Saab is the only political leader in the country who is not afraid of speaking out his mind on anything, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the centre and state,” MNS Vice President Yeshwant Kiledar pointed out.
In fact, Kiledar told IANS that he has launched a soft-teaser campaign on social media giving a sneak preview into what is likely to happen at the MNS anniversary bash on Saturday.
Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar share a cosy relationship, and the latter is keen to accommodate the MNS from its share of seats in the state.
A reluctant Congress, apprehending the MNS could damage its north Indian vote bank, has been vehemently opposing his entry into the opposition grand alliance here.
However, Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s open-door policy to any party willing to join the opposition alliance, made last week during his maiden election campaign in Maharashtra, has kindled hope in the MNS of catapulting back to the political space.
Of course, in the past, the MNS has tasted the power of electoral politics by getting 13 legislators elected in the Maharashtra Assembly in 2009 but was reduced to a single seat in 2014.
Simultaneously, the MNS created waves in elections to local bodies, civic councils and municipal corporations across the state but is now reduced to a trickle raising questions about its survival.
At one time an unabashed fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, today, Raj Thackeray with his legendary oratory skills, is considered among the shrillest critics of the not only Modi, but also the BJP and its President, Amit Shah.
“He has the capacity to reply and hit back at them in the language they understand. That’s his biggest asset. Other political leaders are restrained for various reasons, but not Raj,” a senior party leader confided.
Since the ongoing talks with the opposition alliance are in the final stages, most expect Raj Thackeray to make a formal announcement on Saturday and virtually launch the election campaign with a liberal whacking in store for the Modi-Shah-BJP trio, the leader added.
Founded on March 9, 2006, the aggressive personality of Raj Thackeray – a nephew of late Shiv Sena founder-partriarch Bal Thackeray – has ensured the MNS its share of limelight despite remaining a virtual ‘political pariah’.
However, his credentials notwithstanding, all the political parties considered him almost ‘politically untouchable’ for various reasons, especially his campaign against north Indians a decade ago in the state, as admitted by state Congress president Ashok Chavan and city chief Sanjay Nirupam, among others.
Hoping to erase that embarrassing ‘blot’, Raj Thackeray attended a high-profile meeting of the Uttar Bharatiya Manch (North Indian Front) in Mumbai on December 2 last year and even addressed the gathering in Hindi.
Presently, there is intense speculation that the MNS may get an opportunity to contest at least one seat through the NCP and hopefully open its account in the Lok Sabha, though both sides are keeping silent for now, and he may campaign for the opposition across the state.
(Quaid Najmi can be reached at [email protected])