Raj Thackeray’s survival instincts are well in place

For a long time I had been stating that Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray would never join hands with Narendra Modi because in that move lay his destruction. I was trolled furiously by the saffron brigade who called me all sorts of names but now finally Raj has put the stamp on speculation by journalists for months – and I guess just the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi has not a little to do with it.

Of course, the AAP phenomenon brings renewed hope to Raj that charting his own course through electoral politics will bring him better dividends than a three way tie up with the Shiv Sena and the BJP. But even if AAP had not blazed into being, Raj would have spurned Modi’s concerted efforts in this direction over the past several months.

His decision now puts a spoke in Modi’s wheel who had hoped to win at least 30-40 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra – the second largest contingent after Uttar Pradesh’s 80 parliamentary seats. Without those numbers coming close to te 200 mark in the Lok Sabha it would be an impossible dream but obviously Raj has plans of his wn.

I believe Modi’s popularity is also the reason for his rejection by Raj Thackeray – he does not want his personality and hs party subsumed by Modi’s overwhelming one. Raj wishes to eventually gain full control of the Shiv Sena whose leader, his estranged coiusin Uddhav is ill and unable to pull along with many of the leaders loyal to his father Bal Thackeray and Raj would clearly prefer to wait it out for the Sena to crumble under the weight of its own dissensions and contradictions.

Modi in any case could never have won this particular game for right frm the start even Uddhav Thackeray had made his displeasure at the idea of roping in Raj into the alliance quite clear, He had refused to part with seats from his quota and told the BJP in no uncertain terms that if they wanted his cousin on board they would have to give him seats from their own quota. That was unacceptable to the BJP, given they need every last seat to get to the majority mark. So it was a doomed alliance right from the start.

But this is one of the rare occasions when I agree completely withj Raj Thackeray and not just for the fact that he has a right to his own survival, so why should he give in to the persuasion of others who care only about themselves. Raj is absolutely right when he says Modi has not grown beyond regional chieftain – what is the use of evoking dubious records of Gujarat’s indices all the tine when he should actually be talking about the whole nation?

Actually in this regard Modi should have taken lessons from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, when she first came to Maharashtra for campaigning – in Nandurbar in 1998 – she not only evoked Chhatapati Shivaji Maharaj (even if at the time she could not pronounce his name correctly) but also a local hero, a freedom fighter from the region who none of us had ever heard of, who gave his life fighting the British and who the tribals held in great esteem.

Even Sharad Pawar, who was then the leader of the undivided Congress, was stunned at the response she got not just in the tribal areas of Maharashtra but all across the state – the Congress ended uo with 42 of the 48 seats (four seats went to its Republican allies), a record that has not been bettered by any one, including the Congress, after that.

Modi, however, remains an essentially Gujarat leader and I wonder why he has not been advised about the traditional antipathy between Gujaratis and Maharashtrians at least in Bombay – trucking in people from neighbouring Gujarat, evoking Gujarati examples clearly did not endear him to at least Raj Thackeray.

But I am also convinced that in this regard the Congress has bested Modi – the party too has been wooing Raj over the months and it was a toss up as to who would be able to pull off a better deal with the MNS president. Raj obviously knows which side his bread is buttered for the AAP euphoria has clearly cut into the obsession with Modi and I believe the BJP knows that only too well.

They should have listened to the old fox, their own patriarch L K Advani. He had not wanted Modi to be anointed before January. I recently had one Congressman confessing to me, “If they had indeed listned to Advani we would have been dead. We would never have been able to counter Modi but he has given us enough time and made enough mistakes for us to level the playing field.’’

That is why, I guess, our elders tell us to listen closely to; well, our elders. But the BJP has too many younger men in a hurry. And Raj, of course, is still younger. He can afford to wait.

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