With a view to occupy the vacuum left behind following the split in Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray on Sunday began a five-day visit to the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Thackeray’s Vidarbha tour is being seen by many as him laying the ground work for the MNS’s plans to expand its presence ahead of the municipal corporation elections in Maharashtra.
The visit by Thackeray, who arrived in Nagpur on Sunday by train, surprised many considering that the MNS has traditionally had a negligible presence in the region and been losing ground even in its previously held strongholds of Mumbai, and some pockets of Pune and Thane.
According to The Indian Express, the MNS plans to contest the coming municipal corporation elections in Nagpur, Chandrapur and Amravati in the region which has traditionally been dominated by national parties like Congress and BJP, with their allies, NCP and the Shiv Sena, playing second fiddle.
The trip by Thackeray is aimed at serving a dual purpose, The Indian Express cited MNS sources as saying. First is to breathe a new lease of life into the party which has been on a decline since 2014. The second is to energise the party cadre to get ready to fight its own battles.
The MNS made its mark in the 2009 Maharashtra Assembly elections bagging 13 seats in the 288-member House, but its tally declined significantly in the elections in 2014 and 2019 when its tally dipped to a solitary seat.
The situation was similar in the BMC where MNS won 28 seats in the 2012 elections but could only bag seven in 2017. Six out of these seven corporators later joined the Shiv Sena.
Thackeray’s visit also needs to be seen in the context of the BJP keeping MNS hanging on an alliance. Leading from the front after maintaining a low profile for the past few years, Thackeray wants the party cadre to get battle-ready to contest the civic elections, followed by the Assembly elections in the state slated for 2024.
The split in Shiv Sena that saw Uddhav Thackeray ousted from power has given the MNS just the opportunity it needed to find an opening for revival. With Hindutva added to his ‘Marathi Manoos’ narrative, Thackeray’s visit could do just that.