Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has seen many ups and downs since its inception. It performed well by winning 13 seats in the 2009 Assembly polls and, subsequently, 27 seats in the BMC elections held in 2012. But MNS couldn't retain its position in the 2014 Assembly elections. It was all but routed in the state when it got just one seat from Junnar - and the winning MLA too quit the party to become an independent.
In just five years (2009 to 2014), MNS - which had earlier gained favour with the Marathi youth - went downhill. The party which was once regarded as an alternative to Shiv Sena disappointed its followers with its political inertia. Many political pundits and leaders held party chief Raj Thackeray responsible for status quo; understandably so. The results of the last Assembly polls and the BMC elections came as an eye-opener for MNS: its tally plummeted from 13 MLAs to 1 MLA and from 27 corporators in the BMC to just 7.
During this span, the party started losing its grip over Nasik. From 40 corporators in 2012, the MNS' tally went down to five seats in the 2017 municipal elections. MNS was shattered, with few loyalists backing Raj Thackeray. But what next? Would the party become irrelevant in the state's political scene?
Raj also sensed that one-way communication within the party may have caused one electoral defeat after another. But soon after the BMC elections, the MNS chief changed his style of functioning, visiting most of the party offices in Mumbai. He spoke to the party ranks directly and tried to rejuvenate the cadre by making new appointments and giving additional responsibility to loyalists.
Raj Thackeray must seize the day. Photo: Indiatoday.in
Raj Thackeray was waiting for one opportunity that he could use to announce his comeback: this he got it the inform of the tragic stampede at Elphinstone Road station in which 23 people lost their lives. The next day, Raj Thackeray criticised the railway authorities for not upgrading the infrastructure.
What was most surprising was the MNS chief threatened the Modi government by stating that his cadre would not allow the bullet train station to be built in Mumbai if the government didn't take stock of the dismal state of the railways. It was the same Raj Thackeray who had supported Narendra Modi as PM candidate in the Lok Sabha polls.
However, Thackeray knew charging at Modi alone wouldn't work, and took the protest route. The MNS took out a rally against the stampede, assembling a massive crowd outside the Western Raliways' headquarters in Mumbai's Churchgate. An ultimatum was given to Western Railways to remove hawkers from foot over-bridges at railway stations.
It is apparent that this posturing is a bid to revive his party in the state at a time the BJP continues to show Shiv Sena its place with every election and the allies share a strained relationship.
The MNS chief wants to act as the primary Opposition to the two parties. With the Elphinstone tragedy, his party got the perfect landing. Now everyone is hoping Raj does not leave this issue half way, as he has done in the past with every issue - from the toll plaza controversy to the meat ban during puryushan. As someone once said aptly: "Do not do what you cannot continue to deliver. For, remember, the world wants to see a continuity of delivery of set standards."
It's high time the MNS joined the dots and started working on a concrete strategy. The 2019 general elections will be a great opportunity owing to the political vacuum between the ruling allies BJP and Shiv Sena. Evidently, it is now or never for Raj Thackeray.