At the tenth anniversary celebrations of his party, Raj Thackeray tried to gloss over his growing irrelevance in the nation’s polity by saying that everyone in the world – except perhaps Lata Mangeshkar – has been through bad patches and setbacks.

“Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, greater leaders than me also had downfalls and went through bad patches,” so he was no exception.

While he is right about bad patches coming into the lives of almost all individuals or leaders, his is an exceptional case in the sense that he has brought about his own setback.

When, just before the Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray had a meeting with Nitin Gadkari and very few people noticed that at the time, Gadkari had had no locus standi to ask Raj to refrain from contesting against the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra.

That is an appeal that should have come from either Narendra Modi, who was then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate or at best from Rajnath Singh, the then BJP party president.

Gadkari had not been authorised by either and, indeed, he had not been overstepping his brief. He was actually meeting Raj merely to appeal to him to withdraw his agitation against the toll nakas in the state, which had been causing damage to a lot of vested interests including the Indian Roads Bureau and Gadkari even then had interests in the IRB.

Raj did halt the agitation but went ahead to contest the Lok Sabha polls against both the BJP and the Sena for that is a promise he had not made to Gadkari or any one else.

But the public perception that he was running with the hares and hunting with the hounds caused him lasting damage and he was unable to recover from that duplicitous image even during the assembly elections six months later.

Raj’s politics has always been reactionary, he derives his strengths from opposing various governments than from implementing or formulating policies of his own and that is something now even his supporters are able to see quite clearly. In the intervening period, he found little to oppose the new government’s policies unless it was to point out the flaws in the policy regarding smart cities but that hardly made for a street agitation.

Then he found a burning issue in the government’s decision to give 70,000 permits to new auto-rickshaws in Mumbai and decided that these will be reduced to cinders. But like the toll agitation, this was not so much about concern for the common people or even the Marathi-speaking people of the state as an opportunity to make good again. For those auto-rickshaws were all coming from the Bajaj factory in Pune and now Raj had someone to target.

Rahul Bajaj, however, has his measure and when he said, “We know where he is coming from and where to send him back.”

I knew the agitation would not last long. But even I was surprised at the speed with which Raj Thackeray withdrew this particular agitation. He modified his statement within just two days to say that no new auto-rickshaws were being seen on the streets and if the government was issuing these permits to old ones, those vehicles should be spared from burning.

There was, indeed, a clamour to slap sedition charges on Raj Thackeray for inciting violence but I do not believe that is what frightened or persuaded him to retreat.

I believe Rahul Bajaj knew exactly how to turn the screws on the MNS chief and I must doff my cap to the government – for all that the Congress was clamouring for his arrest, I am glad the state did not fall into that trap and turn him into a martyr.

The Congress, when in power, had been unable to take much action against him except after things went terribly out of hand. But, perhaps, with some good advice from Bajaj, this government did not even have to wait that long to defang this crouching tiger.

As a result, Raj Thackeray seems to have made himself even more of a laughing stock than he was before and many of his workers and supporters are sorely disappointed with him for not just withdrawing the agitation with lightning speed but for having started something, in the first place, that could only have ended up endangering their lives and liberties.

Raj Thackeray ought not to lose sight of two facts — he is no Bal Thackeray who could ask his Shiv Sainiks to jump from the 17th floor of a building for no good reason and they would do it for him eyes shut, no questions asked.

Secondly, no political party is ever built on blackmail, bargaining or setting one group of people against another. Bal Thackeray built the Shiv Sena on the plank of Mumbai for Maharashtrians. At the time, most Maharashtrians were a deprived lot and poor in their own city whereas the rich were almost always non-Maharashtrian and exploitative of the locals.

That is no longer true and the Maharashtrian youth is as aspirational as the rest of India.

They do not want to get stuck in jobs like auto-rickshaw drivers or peanut vendors. If he does not evolve a programme in keeping with the name of his party — navnirman – I am afraid, the temporary setback he talks about will become permanent and the downfall will be everlasting.

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What a state of flux Maharashtra’s politics seems to be in – I have always heard that there can be no permanent friends or enemies in politics but here, on the western shores of India, the dividing lines seem to be etched in acid with no room for crossovers. Read more

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I am quite beginning to feel sorry for Narendra Modi – and beginning to suspect the motives of his adivsors and campaign managers. As though making great “historical’’ blunders were not enough I now wonder that no one tells him that all that he comes across as even today is just a sectarian/regional leader when he should really have something more substantial to talk about as a prime ministerial candidate than just his Gujarat experience. Read more

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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. Read more

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When the nation asks Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, if he could not find one good and reliable ophthalmologist in India, I could say that among the best in the country sits right under his nose at the JJ Hospital in Bombay. Read more

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As Bal Thackeray’s birth anniversary approaches (January 23), I wonder where the Shiv Sena supremo’s legacy has disappeared barely two months after his passing (on Nov 17, 2012). Read more

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“You used to be such a good girl! What’s happened to you in the last month or so?” Bal Thackeray once asked me sometime in the mid-1990s. Read more

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When Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan accused his Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar, of playing cheap political games, he was not far wrong. Read more

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When Maharashtra’s Home Minister R R Patil first mooted the transfer of Bombay’s police commissioner Arup Patnaik a day after some Muslim groups ran riot at the Azad Maidan on August 11, 2012, I am told, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told him, “If Patnaik goes, so do you”. Read more

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Soon after the introduction of mobile technology in the country, my then editor at the Indian Express had decided we needed to do a light-hearted story on how cell phones were changing the lives of politicians. Among the many leaders from across various political parties who I spoke to, the only one who could not respond, well, on the move, was Raj Thackeray, then of the Shiv Sena, now the president of the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Read more

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