He is not contesting elections himself or fielding a single candidate from his party. But Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackarey, a fire-brand orator and a fierce politician, is creating ripples in this election and reinventing the wheels of political campaigning and rally speeches.
Packed grounds, minimal sloganeering, pin-drop silence while the speech is going on, videos and news clips interspersed with claps. This is a regular sight at Thackarey’s election rallies in Mumbai and around. While the politician is not seeking votes for himself or his party, his rallies and speeches in Marathi have been massive crowd puller in the last few days. The rallies are also different as he is not accompanying the local candidates or asks people to vote for any particular party. His attack is direct, calling voters to end the BJP-Shah era.
What is making a difference is his unique style of rallies. He is the only politician who is taking the ruling party head on with research data and well-coordinated video playouts. He shows relevant news videos to drive home the failure of NDA’s flagship schemes. For instance, when he talks about the failure of Swachh Bharat scheme, he plays a news video sourced from the BBC on a Gujarat village where open defecation is still rampant. From Mudra scheme to Make in India, from Namai Gange to Ujjwala Yojna, Thackeray has seamless video playouts to highlight how BJP-led government has only made promises and spent funds on marketing.
An ardent Narendra Modi fan in the past, MNS chief has been roped in by NCP chief Sharad Pawar for an anti-BJP campaign. The direct aspersions and sharp attacks on the Modi-Shah duo has made many in the BJP and allies uncomfortable. BJP has called him a nobody this election. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “Raj Thackarey begani shaadi mein Abdullah diwana.” (a stranger getting too much involved and excited in somebody else's marriage). But his speeches are attracting a large crowds.
“After listening to Thackeray and seeing the older videos of promises of Narendra Modi, things have changed dramatically. Especially when it comes to price rise, it was a BJP ‘jumla’ in 2014, they haven’t done anything to bring down prices,” said a person attending the rally in Bhandup west.
“Raj Thackarey is the only politician who backs up everything he says with proof. It makes me believe in his sincerity,” said another rally attendee.
Many in the political circles are openly criticising Thackarey for the recent shift in his allegiance from the BJP and Narendra Modi to NCP-Congress combine. But off-the-record, almost everyone agrees that his oratory skills and political persona are hard to be ignored and would create an impact on this election. Many have called out the opposition parties, especially the NCP-Congress combine, to learn a thing or two from Thackeray, as no leader of the Congress or the NCP has been exposing the failures and betrayals of the Modi-Shah government so effectively.
Some also question the need for Thackeray to change his politics now. Thackarey’s brand of politics have always been the ‘us verus them’ -- pro-Marathi and anti-migrants. But this is gradually losing relevance in the urban circles and even amongst many Marathis.Whether this new brand swings votes in favour of the opposition parties that MNS is supporting is yet be seen. But the recent transformation may be an answer to the need for Thackarey to make himself more relevant in current politics with an eye on the upcoming Maharashtra assembly elections.