Mumbai: For a three-year-old party to diminish the aura surrounding a four-decade-old outfit that has been synonymous with ‘Marathi pride´ so far, was a mammoth task but Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navanirman Sena did just that.
The MNS dashed the hopes of Raj’s estranged cousin and Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav, who has to carry forward his father Bal Thackeray’s legacy, by winning 13 seats in their maiden assembly poll foray.
Sena citadels in Mumbai and Thane have crumbled under Raj’s assault. The ruling combine beat incumbency blues, just one short of the magic figure of 145 in the 288-member House.
In Mumbai alone, where the MNS scored around 24% votes, leaving Sena (18%) behind, Raj’s outfit, in its maiden foray in the assembly polls, prevented the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance from winning 11 seats.
The MNS marred Sena’s prospects by not only splitting the “Marathi” vote but also emerging as the second largest party in Mumbai with six seats, ahead of Sena’s tally of 4.
Before the elections, Raj had announced that no government could be formed without his support. That did not happen but the MNS chief can take solace in the fact that the results of the assembly polls indicate the true inheritor of Bal Thackeray’s legacy.
With two seats behind BJP’s tally of 46, the Sena may now have to concede the Opposition Leader’s post to its saffron ally.
The MNS polled around 5.7 per cent of the state’s vote, eating into Sena, and in some places, the NCP vote share as well. The Sena was the worst hit, losing 3.7% of its support since the May Lok Sabha polls. The NCP also lost 2.4% of its votes compared to the Lok Sabha elections.
With 13 MLAs in the new House, the MNS, many believe, may become the rallying point of non-Congress forces in days ahead, replacing the slot hitherto held by Sena.
The MNS mauled Sena candidates in its traditional bastions in Lalbaug-Parel-Dadar-Mahim. For over three decades, the Assembly constituencies of Parel, Dadar and Mahim were held by the Sena. After delimitation, the constituencies were merged and renamed Sewri and Mahim.
In Mahim, MNS nominee Nitin Sardesai defeated Sena’s Aadesh Bandekar and Congress candidate Sada Sarwankar, a Sena man who defected to Congress a day before filing nomination. In Sewri, MNS nominee Bala Nandgaonkar defeated sitting Sena MLA Dagdu Sakpal by over 6,000 votes.
The MNS also ensured the defeat of Sena-BJP candidates in 11 of the 36 constituencies in Mumbai. But for the MNS, the Sena-BJP combine would have swept Mumbai, winning 26 of the 36 seats.
The MNS also made inroads into traditional Sena areas like Dombivli, Thane and Ovala-Majiwada, where its candidates ended up as runners-up.
Though Raj Thackeray could not emerge as the ‘kingmaker´ as he had wished, he has successfully taken over the Sena’s agenda of the sons-of-the-soil and has succeeded in projecting himself as an alternative to Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, who did not fit into his father’s oversized shoes.
After Raj, the enfant terrible of Maharashtra politics, dashed the saffron combine’s prospects in the Lok Sabha polls, the Sena-BJP leaders had said it was a temporary phase and that the MNS would put up a flop show in the assembly polls.
Uddhav went to the extent of saying that voters had regretted siding with the MNS as it meant victory of Congress.
BJP leader Gopinath Munde and Sena leader Manohar Joshi have finally admitted that the MNS ate into their vote bank.
NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal said by winning 13 seats, the MNS has shown that Raj Thackeray has arrived in Maharashtra politics.
Even NCP chief Sharad Pawar said, “The MNS has dented our win in Maharashtra.”
The Congress vote share remained almost intact, while that of the BJP went up by 0.3% compared to Lok Sabha polls.