Mumbai: Raj Thackeray proved to be an election spoiler for the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Maharashtra, especially in the prosperous urban belt around Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by the estranged nephew of Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray fought its first general election, putting up candidates in 11 of the 48 constituencies in Maharashtra. MNS general secretary Nitin Sardesai said his party came second in two of these constituencies and third in the rest. The party’s candidates won around 100,000 votes in several constituencies. In Mumbai, MNS’ Bala Nandgaonkar finished second in the Mumbai South constituency, Shilpa Sarpotdar polled at least 131,000 votes in Mumbai North Central, while Shishir Shinde polled 194,000 votes in Mumbai North East.
“Out of 25 seats they won, (the) Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) alliance could win at least nine seats only because of MNS. Without MNS, Congress-NCP would have been restricted to just 16 seats. And the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would have won at least 32 seats if MNS was with them,” said Kumar Ketkar, chief editor of Mumbai daily Loksatta.
The MNS was launched by Raj Thackeray three years ago, after a fraternal showdown with his cousin Uddhav Thackeray. The party initially backed a development programme till it suddenly changed course to pursue an anti-immigrant agenda, culminating in attacks on north Indians in several cities in Maharashtra in 2008 that brought the party to national prominence. That strategy seems to have paid off, with the MNS making deep inroads into the Shiv Sena’s core Marathi support base. Subhash Desai, a Shiv Sena general secretary, said, “MNS has eaten (into) a lot of our votes in Mumbai, Thane and other urban areas. Congress has been the major beneficiary of the Shiv Sena and MNS fight.”
“We have managed to get 290,000 votes in Nashik constituency, which is a great sign. We are confident about our future in the assembly elections, too. We will continue to raise the issues of (the) Marathi community and development of Mumbai at the Centre,” Sardesai said.
Raj Thackeray has said he wants to build political awareness about the development issues of Maharashtra in national politics, while he lashed out at his former party, Shiv Sena, saying that it was “run by petty clerks” and had “fallen from its former glory”.
“We are happy with votes that we have secured,” said Sarpotdar, the MNS candidate from North Central Mumbai. “After seeing the results, we are hopeful we will do much better in the assembly elections.”
PTI contributed to this story.