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Raj Thackeray, the 'inclusive' Marathi Manoos

Last updated on: August 24, 2012 10:36 IST

Raj Thackeray, the 'inclusive' Marathi Manoos

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Sanjay Jog

Raj Thackeray's public meeting earlier this week was clearly in preparation for the 2014 assembly elections. By reiterating that for him Maharashtra was the lone religion, he showed he was toeing neither the Hindutva line, nor the Marathi Manoos for electoral prospects, writes Sanjay Jog.

As India's ace cricketer 'Very Very Special' or VVS Laxman called it a day, a firebrand Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray began a new chapter in his political career -- through moderately successful image management that projected him as an inclusive politician rather than one responsible for bashing of north Indians and promoting the politics of hate.

Defying the police orders earlier this week, Raj organised a public meeting, at Azad Maidan in Mumbai, to protest violence against police and media persons following the rally organised by Muslim bodies on August 11.

His followers are bound to be disappointed by the restraint he showed in his speech against illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

But by reiterating that for him Maharashtra was the lone religion, he showed he was toeing neither the Hindutva line, nor the Marathi Manoos for electoral prospects, unlike his estranged uncle and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

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Photographs: Sahil Salvi

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Raj Thackeray, the 'inclusive' Marathi Manoos

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He told Maharashtrians he was prepared to take all sections together in a bid to provide an effective alternative in Maharashtra.

From a trusted nephew of Bal Thackeray to MNS chief, Raj's journey has been marked by several ups and downs.

As a teenager, he attracted attention in his state after he led a massive morcha of unemployed people at Nagpur.

Raj started his political career with his uncle Bal Thackeray. During the Shivshahi -- the Shiv Sena-BJP rule (1995-99) -- Raj formed the Shiv Udyog Sena in 1997 in order to open up employment options for youth in the state and became a popular icon by organising a Michael Jackson concert.

When Bal Thackeray decided to anoint his son Uddhav as the party executive president in 2004, Raj was far from pleased.

Subsequently, Raj took the back seat, and, at times openly shared his views on how he was sidelined in the party's functioning.

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Photographs: Courtesy Raj Thackeray's Official Facebook Page

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Sulking, Raj eventually opted to go his own way and resigned from the Shiv Sena in 2006, levelling allegations that the saffron party was run by petty clerks, which was causing loss of its glory. The reference was to his cousin Uddhav.

Subsequently, in 2006, Raj travelled across Maharashtra and established the MNS. In a bid to outsmart Shiv Sena, Raj chose to aggressively push the Marathi Manoos agenda by opposing north Indian migrants in Mumbai, especially those from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who were at the receiving end of violence orchestrated by MNS.

Raj still maintains that the whole thing was exaggerated by north Indian politicians and journalists.

Amid such criticism, Raj independently contested elections to the India's richest civic body, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, in 2007, and got entry into it. Thereafter, he contested assembly elections in 2009, when his party's 13 candidates got elected to the lower house.

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Photographs: Courtesy Raj Thackeray's Facebook Page

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In 2012 BMC elections, Raj gave the Shiv Sena a run for its money by delivering aggressive speeches and led a scathing attack on the 15-year rule of the Shiv Sena-BJP in the Mumbai civic body.

Yet, he failed to emerge as the single largest party, although he succeeded in effectively increasing his presence in state politics.

No doubt, Raj's last showing is in preparation for the 2014 assembly elections.

He will be hoping to cash in on an anti-incumbency sentiment against Congress-NCP rule. He is also prepared to take full advantage of a weakening Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.

The recent illness of Uddhav brought Raj closer to him, fuelling speculation that the cousins would unite for the 2014 assembly elections.

However, leadership of the Shiv Sena continues to be a major bone of contention and it's anybody's guess as to who will emerge tops.


Photographs: Courtesy Raj Thackeray's Facebook page

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