Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Why Raj Thackeray is important for BJP in Maharashtra. 5 Points

  • Raj Thackeray, accompanied by his son Amit Thackeray, met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi on March 19 fueling speculation of a new seat-sharing arrangement emerging in Maharashtra, the state that sends 48 members to the lower house of Parliament.

Gulam Jeelani
Updated20 Mar 2024, 07:16 PM IST
Union Home Minister Amit Shah with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray and the latter's son Amit Thackeray during a meeting, in New Delhi, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (PTI Photo)
Union Home Minister Amit Shah with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray and the latter’s son Amit Thackeray during a meeting, in New Delhi, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI)

The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is likely to contest the Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  

Thakeray, accompanied by his son Amit Thackeray, flew to Delhi and met Union Home Minister Amit Shah on March 19 adding to the speculation of a new seat-sharing arrangement emerging in Maharashtra, the state that sends 48 members to the lower house of the Parliament. 

Once a Modi Critic

Raj Thackeray, 55, is the estranged cousin of Uddhav Thackeray, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He left the then-undivided Shiv Sena in 2005 to form the MNS, a year later.

Known for his oratory skills and anti-north India rhetoric, Raj has not been consistent in his political stands. Sample this: In 2014, he supported Narendra Modi, the then Prime Ministerial candidate. But in 2019, he led a high-pitched campaign- ‘Modi-mukt Bharat’ - expressing disappointment over the ‘unkept’ promises of the first PM Modi-led government at the centre. 

Also Read : No CAA, UCC: 5 key highlights of DMK manifesto for Lok Sabha polls

Raj even joined the Opposition chorus and questioned the PM over the 2019 Pulwama attacks, and the Balakot strike.

Raj's 'Marathi Manoos' plank championing anti-north Indian rhetoric in Maharashtra is an open secret, yet the BJP is seemingly allowing him on board the NDA alliance. "BJP knows that UP and other parts of north India are already taken care of. All it has to worry about is Maharashtra, which has largest MPs after Uttar Pradesh," said a political observer.

Maharashtra Matters

But why does Raj Thackeray matter for the BJP? Raj's party, MNS has just one MLA in the state and doesn't hold much influence. And, what will MNS add in the already-existing 'Mahayuti' alliance?

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led faction of Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar- led faction of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are  part of Maharashtra's ruling NDA bloc in Maharashtra.

While the BJP is confident about a smooth run in the Hindi heartland, it does not expect as good results in Maharashtra. 

BJP's 370 Target 

Some surveys have suggested that Uddhav Thackeray- led Shiv Sena might go well in the Lok Sabha polls due to sympathy. The Udhav Thackeray faction is still said to command the loyalty of a large section of the Sena cadre, according to analysts

The most important reason, according to analysts, is the BJP's target of 370 for itself and 400 for the NDA bloc in the upcoming polls. The party doesn't want to take any chances, they said.

Also Read : Lok Sabha Elections 2024 : Resentment in Karnataka BJP over first list of Lok Sabha candidates

“An alliance with the MNS may not bring desired electoral dividends, but Raj Thackeray’s oratory can create the desired atmosphere, especially to counter the Shiv Sena (UBT) led by Uddhav Thackeray,” the Indian Express quoted a BJP leader as saying.

The NDA won 41 of the 48 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Raj Thackeray was part of it. This election, the BJP has increased the NDA target to 45 seats. Soon after Raj-Shah meeting, Uddhav said the BJP was trying to “steal a Thackeray” to win elections.

‘Marathi Manoos’

After coming to being in 2006, the MNS made a good start by winning 13 seats in the 2009 Assembly elections riding on the ‘Marathi Manoos’ plank, only to be sputtered later. In 2014, it won two seats in the Assembly polls, and in 2019, a lone seat. Raj Thackeray’s has never won a constituency in a Lok Sabha election.

In the 2017 BMC polls, the MNS won seven corporator seats. Barring one, all its corporators later joined the Uddhav Sena.

Some reports suggest that BJP has agreed on offering Raj the South Mumbai Lok Sabha seat as part of the deal. The MNS, however, also wants Shirdi constituency. Fielding two candidates would help MNS to retain its status of a ‘state party’. The MNS may help BJP get Maratha support in select constituencies in Mumbai and Thane.

Chhagan Bhujbal, a leader of the Ajit Pawar NCP, said on March 19 that the MNS’s entry into the NDA fold would increase the strength of the ruling alliance.

Changing Dynamics

A lot has changed in Maharashtra political dynamics over the last many years. The BJP and the undivided Shiv Sena contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election in an alliance and won 41 out of the state’s 48 seats. The same year, the alliance won the state Assembly elections.

The Shiv Sena and the BJP parted ways and ended the alliance. The Shiv Sena joined hands with NCP and the Congress party to constitute what was they called the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). In November 2019, Uddhav Thackeray became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

Also Read : SC allows Sharad Pawar faction to use 'man blowing turha' as poll symbol, Ajit Pawar-led NCP asked to declare

The term didn't last long either. In June 2022, Eknath Shinde, a minister in the then Uddhav's cabinet, rebelled against Uddhav and split Shiv Sena into two factions. The MVA government fell. Shinde came to power with the support of the BJP in the state. Uddhav lost the party name and symbol to the faction led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

In 2023, Sharad Pawar’s NCP also split into two factions after his nephew Ajit Pawar revolted.  The senior Pawar lost the  party’s name and symbol. The faction is now known as NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar). "Given so many players in Maharashtra, the BJP doesn't want to take any chances," said the analyst.

As things stand, BJP is keeping all options open for Lok Sabha, assembly and local body polls in Maharashtra. And as for Raj Thackeray, he has nothing to lose. By joining NDA, he might as well revive, at least, his own and his party's political fortunes in Maharashtra.

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First Published:20 Mar 2024, 07:16 PM IST
HomePoliticsNewsLok Sabha Elections 2024: Why Raj Thackeray is important for BJP in Maharashtra. 5 Points

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