MNS chief Raj Thackeray waves as he joins party workers in the rally. Image Courtesy: The Asian Age
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray led a march in Mumbai on Sunday, February 9. It was, as per his claim, an answer to the marches across India in protest against the highly contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), and National Population Register (NPR). He further claimed that these protest marches are nothing but “angry outbursts of Muslims who were cornered by government decisions like the abrogation of Article 370 and the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi Title dispute.”
Not only that, Thackeray’s speech addressing the people participating in the march was provocative as well. He said, “This is just a reply to their marches. Let me tell them that in future the reply to stones will be given by stones and to swords by swords.”
This is not the first time that he has issued such statements supporting CAA-NRC-NPR, against which protests are raging all across the country. On January 23, he addressed the first statewide conference of his party in Mumbai this year. In the meeting, he unveiled a new party flag – a complete saffron square with an emblem of King Shivaji in the middle. In that meeting, he expressed his complete support to CAA-NRC-NPR and congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking a strong position against 'infiltrators'.
However, Raj Thackeray’s stand now is a 360 degree turn from his campaign in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. For months before the LS elections, Thackeray had heavily criticised Modi and Shah for their dictatorial attitude. He had also shown several videos in support his arguments during his mega rallies, creating a dent among BJP’s supporters.
But things changed after August 2019, just before the Maharashtra Assembly elections, when he received a notice from the Enforcement Directorate. Since then, he has toned down his anti-Modi campaign to an extent, despite continuing to be critical of BJP till the Assembly elections were over in the state. The elections, however, resulted in an unprecedented alliance in Maharashtra between Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress which formed the government with Uddhav Thackeray at the helm of affairs.
"It looks as if Raj has read the situation of Sena joining hands with Congress and NCP differently. He may be thinking that Sena's hardcore Hindutva supporters are disillusioned with Uddhav and they may come to him if he turns saffron. So, he has taken up issues like Ram Mandir or CAA and NRC which are close to Hindu identity politics and is trying to get into that space," senior journalist Jatin Desai told NewsClick.
It is not yet clear if he is ready to join hands with the BJP. Sources have said that there is confusion regarding this among the leaders within his party as well. Statistics show that though his party won only one seat in the Assembly elections but at eight places, MNS candidates came at the second. And on all those eight places, BJP was a winner, indicating that there was tough competition between the two right wing parties.
There is another aspect to be considered as well. BJP and Shiv Sena first came together in 1987. It was the first political alliance in the name of Hindutva in India. But Sena then had an upper hand in Maharashtra, with BJP playing second fiddle. However, by 2014, BJP had grown to the extent that it won 122 seats in the state, while Sena managed to get only 63.
Now, with the Sena breaking off from the Hindutva alliance, speculations are rife if Raj Thackeray’s new turn is an indication of a future alliance with BJP.