Mumbai: The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have been crushed in Maharashtra this Lok Sabha election, but one of the biggest losers in the state is someone whose party did not even contest the poll — firebrand Raj Thackeray and his now fading Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Through the poll campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray held rallies campaigning against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, donning the role of an ‘investigative politician’ in 10 of Maharashtra’s constituencies. Highlighting the government’s failure in his rallies, Thackeray — armed with facts, figures, archived newspaper clippings, audio clips, videos and a bit of basic old-fashioned field research — drew huge crowds.
The rallies attracted the attention of netizens, earned the MNS chief praise from the opposition for speaking up, and compelled the BJP-Shiv Sena to take notice. But, despite the buzz, Thackeray’s rallies made no dent to the prospects of BJP-Shiv Sena.
Candidates of the ruling alliance have comfortably won 8 of the 10 constituencies where Thackeray addressed rallies.
In a couple of tweets Thursday, Thackeray described the election result as “anakalaniya” (incomprehensible) and “beyond rationale.”
— Raj Thackeray (@RajThackeray) May 23, 2019
Beyond Rationale !#Verdict2019
— Raj Thackeray (@RajThackeray) May 23, 2019
Five years ago, in 2014, Thackeray was strongly rooting for BJP to win and Narendra Modi to become prime minister.
No impact on opposition’s performance
This Lok Sabha election, Thackeray held rallies in the constituencies of Nanded, Solapur, Kolhapur, Satara, Pune, Raigad, Maval, Nashik, Mumbai South and Mumbai North East.
His rallies were expected to help the opposition Congress-NCP, with the BJP also having demanded at one point that the MNS’ expenses be counted as part of the opposition’s expenditure on Lok Sabha campaigning.
However, the opposition, instead, suffered a drubbing in 8 of the constituencies where Thackeray held his rallies, with Nanded and Maval being the sorest defeats.
The Congress lost Nanded, one of its safest seats, held by its state president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan to BJP’s Patrap Chikhalikar. Similarly, the defeat in Maval too came as an embarrassment with NCP’s Parth Pawar losing to Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne and creating a record of being the first Pawar dynast to lose an election.
In Mumbai too, the MNS’ home turf, Thackeray’s rallies at Kalachowki (Mumbai South) and Bhandup (Mumbai North East), attracted large crowds, but the Shiv Sena and BJP, respectively, pocketed the seats crushing Congress’ Milind Deora and NCP’s Sanjay Dina Patil.
The only two places where Thackeray had addressed rallies and the opposition won were Satara and Raigad, where both the winning candidates, NCP’s Udayanraje Bhosale and Sunil Tatkare, already had a strong following.
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‘Congress failed to take advantage of MNS rallies’
MNS leader Shalini Thackeray said her party played its part perfectly, and it’s the Congress’ fault alone that the opposition was not able to take electoral advantage of Thackeray’s rallies.
“We have played our role as an opposition and played it well. It is basically the failure of the Congress. They failed to capitalise on Raj saheb’s rallies and get traction from them,” Shalini told ThePrint.
“The Congress had reservations about accepting the MNS’ support right from the beginning.”
The MNS, which tasted dizzying success in its initial years, has been on a downward spiral since 2014. The party was initially hoping to contest the Lok Sabha election as part of the Congress-NCP alliance. A few months before the election, the MNS chief also attended a gathering of Mumbai’s north Indian community, hoping to mend fences with the section of the people his party had once aggressively targeted.
However, while the NCP seemed willing to accommodate Thackeray’s party in the opposition’s alliance, the Congress vociferously opposed it, saying there was no question of tying up with a party that had gone on a rampage against Mumbai’s migrant north Indians, a key Congress vote base.
Shalini said, “The Congress realised the importance of our work much later on in the campaign and by then it was too late. It is basically the failure of the Congress on all fronts.”
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