Bonhomie Between BJP, Shinde Faction, and MNS Increases but Will it Translate into New Political Alignment in Maha?

With altered political equations in the state, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena appears to be gravitating towards the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena faction led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, a key factor to watch for ahead of the Mumbai civic polls where Marathi votes play a crucial role.

Ever since the fall of the government led by Raj Thackeray’s estranged cousin and arch-rival Uddhav Thackeray in June, the bonhomie between Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis has led to a buzz of new political alignments.

Shinde and Fadnavis met Raj Thackeray for MNS’ Deepotsav event in Shivaji Park on the eve of Diwali. The brewing chemistry was evident when the trio walked together to the venue in Shivaji Park from the residence of the MNS chief.

Last month, Raj Thackeray had written a letter to Fadnavis, urging him to withdraw BJP’s candidate from the Andheri East Assembly bypoll in favour of late Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke’s wife. The BJP later withdrew its candidate from the race, for which Raj Thackeray thanked Fadnavis.

In the months leading to the fall of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, Raj Thackeray had raised the issue of loudspeakers at mosques and announced to visit Ayodhya.

After the change in guard in Maharashtra, leaders of the BJP and the Shinde faction met Raj Thackeray separately on various occasions. Both Shinde and Fadnavis had also met the MNS chief separately.

Raj Thackeray also wrote a letter to his “friend” Fadnavis, hailing him for setting an example of loyalty and commitment to one’s party by taking over as the Deputy Chief Minister of the state.

Officially, each side has declined to comment on a possible tie-up in the state.

After Fadnavis, Shinde met Raj Thackeray at the Deepotsav event, said Raju Patil, MNS’ lone MLA.

He said they are closer by heart but will go ahead with whatever the leadership says.

With the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena aligning with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the talks of a new political realignment between BJP and MNS are getting louder.

The possibility of such a scenario comes at a time when civic body polls are around the corner, especially the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections.

Sujata Anandan, the author of ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat — How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever, said it is clear that Raj Thackeray’s MNS will go with the BJP as it is not a threat to the party.

More importantly, Raj Thackeray’s politics since he parted ways with Shiv Sena in 2006 has worked against Uddhav Thackeray, Anandan told PTI.

Ketan Bhosale, an associate professor at Mumbai University’s Sathaye College, said Raj Thackeray leaned towards Hindutva two years back and shares the same cause with the BJP and the Shinde faction.

“The MNS chief had done “somersaults” in the past and he is fiercely against Uddhav. This has happened in the past and at every juncture, Raj was always in the camp opposite Uddhav,” Bhosale said, adding the upcoming BMC elections could also be the last chance to consolidate MNS, which is trying to stay relevant politically.

The MNS was founded in 2006 after Raj Thackeray quit Shiv Sena over who would be Bal Thackeray’s political heir. He took up the issue of the sons-of-the-soil, the agenda on which Shiv Sena was built in 1966.

In 2007, in its debut municipal polls, the MNS won seven seats in Mumbai, followed by 27 in 2012- the highest so far for the party in Mumbai, one of its core base areas. In 2017, it won only seven seats.

In 2009, riding on the “Marathi manoos” plank, Raj Thackeray ate into the votes of Shiv Sena and BJP in Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik.

In the Assembly elections held that year, MNS bagged 13 of the 288 seats. This paved the way for an easy win for the Congress-NCP combine, mainly at the cost of Shiv Sena.

“The MNS’ performance in the first assembly election after it was formed far exceeded the Shiv Sena’s historic performance — the party (the Shiv Sena) crossed single digits only in 1990,” author Dhaval Kulkarni writes in his book ‘The Cousins Thackeray — Uddhav, Raj and the shadow of their Sena’.

The 2009 Assembly polls remain the best performance of MNS so far. It has been on a rapid slide since.

In 2014, the MNS contested 219 seats and forfeited its deposit in 209. It won just one seat and bagged 3.15 per cent of the votes.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Raj Thackeray openly advocated the candidature of Narendra Modi for the prime minister’s post and fielded candidates mostly against the Sena. More than a year ahead of the polls, he also visited Gujarat and praised Modi.

In the 2019 general elections, Raj Thackeray did a U-turn and took up cudgels against Modi. Experts view this as help offered to the Congress-NCP alliance. In the Assembly polls held in the same year, the MNS contested 101 seats and forfeited its deposit in 86 segments.

It bagged only one seat in the state and garnered 2.25 per cent votes.

Cut to 2022, Shiv Sena disintegrated by Shinde’s rebellion, it remains interesting to see if MNS fills the void and attracts Marathi votes in alliance with BJP and the Shinde faction.

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