Unconditional support to Mahayuti just for Modi: Raj Thackeray

This decision marks a departure from Raj Thackeray's previous stance of advocating for a "Modi-mukt Bharat" during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections

Thackeray stated that the MNS would not contest the LS elections and instead focus on preparing for the assembly elections (photo: National Herald archives)
Thackeray stated that the MNS would not contest the LS elections and instead focus on preparing for the assembly elections (photo: National Herald archives)

Navin Kumar

MNS President Raj Thackeray, who once called for a 'Modi-mukt Bharat' during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, has undergone a notable shift in his political stance. In his Gudi Padwa rally on Tuesday, 11 April, Raj Thackeray declared unconditional support to the Mahayuti coalition comprising BJP, Shiv Sena (led by Eknath Shinde), and NCP (led by Ajit Pawar) in Maharashtra in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's candidacy in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Addressing the rally at the iconic Shivaji Maidan in Dadar, Raj unequivocally stated that the MNS would abstain from contesting the Lok Sabha elections. Instead, he instructed his party members to gear up for the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra. Raj's declaration has sent ripples through the BJP, surprising its members. Despite concerted efforts by the BJP's central leadership, the MNS remained excluded from the NDA coalition.

Notably, following his meeting with senior BJP leader Amit Shah in Delhi last month, speculation arose that Raj Thackeray was poised to align his MNS party with the BJP. This period also witnessed discussions with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The day before the rally, Fadnavis had confidently declared in Nagpur that Raj's MNS would form an alliance with the BJP. He asserted that Raj's leadership was inclined towards joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) following their backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, during the rally, Raj diverged from this expected course. Contrary to the BJP's anticipation, he made no mention of joining the NDA. Instead, he solely pledged support to the Mahayuti coalition, emphasising his backing for Modi's leadership.

For Raj, cozying up to the BJP poses a challenge. He likely perceives that aligning with the BJP on the core issues that formed the basis of MNS could jeopardize his political standing. Additionally, Raj's stance against North Indians adds another layer of complexity to his potential alliance with the BJP.

In 2008, Raj laid the groundwork for MNS by targeting North Indians in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. However, his efforts failed to garner widespread support from the 'Marathi Manoos'. Despite 18 years since its inception, the MNS's support base has dwindled, with only 2.5 percent of Marathi votes backing them.

Recognising this, the BJP sees an opportunity to exploit this segment to split the Marathi vote sympathetic to Uddhav Thackeray. However, Ambadas Danve, the opposition leader from Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction) in the Legislative Council, believes that Raj's endorsement won't significantly benefit Modi in Maharashtra.

Raj was offered the position of Sena chief by merging his party with the Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde faction. However, he declined, stating, "The house where I was born belongs to Shiv Sena. If I intended to lead Shiv Sena, I would have done so long ago. I have no intention of causing any rift within the party. I am not inclined to work under anyone else. My allegiance lies solely with Sena chief Bal Thackeray, and I will continue to serve as the president of MNS."

Raj highlighted the significant presence of youth in the nation today, talking about their pivotal role in shaping the future. He expressed the expectation that Prime Minister Modi would prioritise initiatives for the youth. This underscored his belief that the current state of affairs concerning the youth is far from ideal, urging the Centre to address their concerns more effectively.

Despite assertions by BJP leaders that Raj has recently embraced the Hindutva agenda, signaling a potential alignment with the BJP and NDA, Raj refrained from discussing Hindutva during his address. Instead, he reiterated his commitment to the Marathi cause, saying, "Our dedication to Marathi remains steadfast; we cannot abandon it." Raj's announcement also suggests that his campaign against North Indians remains ongoing.

Raj's anti-North Indian stance has raised concerns about potential backlash against the BJP from North Indian communities, particularly evident in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Political analysts observe that the BJP's strategy seems aimed at multiple targets. One such target appears to be diminishing the political influence of the Thackeray family. By fracturing the Shiv Sena, they attempted to undermine Uddhav Thackeray's authority.

Now, through Raj, there seemed to be an effort to steer Thackeray family politics in a new direction under the guise of championing the Marathi Manoos cause. However, Raj's actions have inadvertently thwarted the BJP's intentions in this regard, leading to a negative outcome.

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