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Home > India > News > Report

Analysis: What drove Raj Thackeray's party to violence

Krishnakumar P in Mumbai | February 08, 2008 19:32 IST

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The recent attacks on north Indians by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena are a shrewd ploy of party chief Raj Thackeray to embarrass the Shiv Sena and usurp its core Marathi constituency, political observers in Mumbai say.

Kumar Ketkar, the editor of the Marathi daily Loksatta, said though he might have achived what he wanted, Raj did not anticipate the issue to snowball out of control. "He thought the media would gobble it up and just create a small storm that will shift the agenda. But the great (Samajwadi Party leaders) Amar Singh and Abu Azmi fueled the issue by taking him more seriously than what he deserves. The confrontational position aided the MNS volunteers to get into the limelight."

Journalist Vaibhav Purandare, the author of The Sena Story, said Raj resorted to this measure to stem his party's eroding credibility. "When Raj launched his party, he first started out with an inclusive approach. When he found that it is not working, he had to do something drastic to get back into the limelight. On the other hand, the Sena was actually becoming inclusive. It even began attracting Muslims into its fold. It also began taking up the common man's issues like farmer suicides and power supply.

"This is Raj's attempt to take the Sena's mass base away´┐Ż to completely embarrass the Sena. And he has succeeded," Purandare said.

Ketkar also said Raj's timing was determined by the steps of (Cousin brother and Shiv Sena Executive President) Udhav Thackeray, who was successfully raking up the farmer suicide issue and was talking about a lot of public issues. "The Shiv Sena was apparently seen to be growing in stature. Raj and his volunteers were feeling marginalised. After all they too have been brought up on the same diet as the Sena volunteers. They are not like the Left's or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's volunteers who hold chintan bhaitaks and other discussions," Ketkar said.

Purandare added that while the Sena was trying to portray itself as inclusive, Raj's actions have reminded the people of the Sena's past. "Uddhav was having these Uttar Bharatiya sammelans. They are now going to view the Sena with mistrust. It will not be easy for the Sena now to establish a dialogue with them. Also, the core Marathi constituency of the Sena will also be fabourably disposed to Raj. He has succeeded in creating doubts. Without the hardline Marathi agenda, the Sena stands to lose ground," he said.

Ketkar also said the Sena stands to lose in the current scenario. "Suddenly as you must have seen, the Shiv Sena has gone on the defensive. A lot of Sena activists have started supporting Raj. The urban Marathi youth are supporting Raj. Though their loyalty may lie with some other party, they are sentimentally with Raj. It is not necessary that this sentiment will transform into electoral gain," he said.

Sanjay Raut, the executive editor of Saamna, said the Sena would not lose any ground because of Raj's actions. "Marathi people have always backed Shiv Sena. I don't think a situation has come where that will change," he said.

He also denied that Raj was using the Shiv Sena's old tactics to strike at it. "The Shiv Sena has never wanted to drive anyone away from Mumbai. From the day of its inception, not a single leader has made such comments," he said.

But Purandare felt Raj's actions will aid the Congress. "The Congress has always been an inclusive party. The members of every community vote for them. For the Congress, Udhav had to be stopped. He has been touring Maharashtra and organising rallies and talking about issues like farmer suicides. He had a rally on the same day that violence broke out in Mumbai, but nobody knows about that rally. Raj has also ensured that some of the other good things that the Sena is doing are also overshadowed. The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine will stand to gain," he said.

Ketkar, however, does not agree to the argument that the Congress or Narayan Rane would stand to gain or had a hand in the recent controversy, as some rumours have been suggesting. "I don't think anybody had a hand in this," he said.

Both Ketkar and Purandare, however, agreed that Raj is trying to position himself as Sena chief Bal Thackeray's potential successor.

"What this has done is help Raj project himself as the real heir of Balasaheb with respect to the Marathi Manoos. Beyond that, it has achieved nothing," Ketkar said.

Purandare added: "And the Sena's constituency is not looking at a secular inclusive leader," he said.

Ketkar placed the blame of the outsiders-locals divide at the Sena's doorsteps. "The Sena tried to woo the north Indians after it realised their value as a vote bank in the 2004 defeat. They realised that the demography of the city had changed within a decade. That is when they decided it was time to please the north Indians. Udhav started organising Uttar Bharatiya functions. This is the year that he bore the fruits of his efforts. That is why Raj decided to strike at the same sentiment that the Sena played in the past -- the Marathi Manoos."

Summing it up, Ketkar said: "Has Raj gained? Yes. Has Udhav lost? Yes. Will this have any impact electorally? No. Udhav is being supported by [Nationalist Congress Party chief] Sharad Pawar [Images]. I think Udhav will be compensated by Sharad Pawar's support."