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First Thackeray in poll fray

Raj Thackeray

Mumbai, May 31: Raj Thackeray today announced that he would contest the October Assembly elections, becoming the first from the clan that has “remote-controlled” Mumbai to agree to face voters.

“After analysing everything, I have come to the decision, for which I have called all of you here, that Raj Thackeray will himself contest the forthcoming Assembly elections,” the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief told a party rally today in central Mumbai.

“If we obtain the confidence of Maharashtra’s people and if they give their mandate, then I will also lead Maharashtra,” he added, offering himself as candidate for chief minister.

The announcement, which was aimed at pepping up cadre demoralised after the general election rout, had the desired effect. Hundreds of MNS activists clapped, cheered and waved party flags to welcome the decision.

Raj will be the first of the Thackerays to take the poll plunge although the clan has lorded over the city since 1966, when his uncle Bal Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena, and even “remote-controlled” the state for the five years the party was in power. “I am the remote control,” Bal Thackeray had famously told an interviewer then, in reply to a question about publicly pulling up the Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi.

Bal Thackeray never fought an election and neither has his son Uddhav, now the Sena chief, so far. Raj, who entered politics as chief of the Sena’s student wing Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena long before cousin Uddhav, had not contested one either.

His decision to fight an election now is also a direct challenge to Uddhav, who has already told the BJP he wants the chief minister’s post for the Sena if the alliance comes to power in the state.

Powered by Narendra Modi’s personal charisma and whirlwind campaign, the Sena-BJP alliance decimated the Cong-NCP alliance in the general election, winning 42 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The Congress tally shrank from 17 seats to two, while the NCP was reduced from eight seats to four.

The MNS, which had gained the reputation as a “spoiler” in the 2009 elections by eating into the Sena-BJP votebank of traditional Marathi votes, failed miserably. Not only did all its 10 candidates — nine were pitted against the Sena — lose their deposits, the MNS vote share fell from 4.6 per cent in 2009 to 1.5 per cent, even lower than the Aam Aadmi Party’s 2.2 per cent, the BSP’s 2.6 per cent and the much smaller Swabhimani Paksha’s 2.3 per cent.

Crediting Modi alone for the spectacular NDA victory, Raj today said: “The BJP or its allies were elected only in the name of Narendra Modi… I congratulate Narendra Modi on his win, particularly for winning the polls without any crutches (allies) which has lately become the norm in national politics.”

Urging party workers not to be disheartened, Raj said: “Who hasn’t lost elections? Someone like Indira Gandhi was defeated by a person called Raj Narain. I have seen since my childhood days how Shiv Sena candidates would come home defeated, and how they would rise and fight again. I will show you how to rise up after an electoral defeat.”

If Thackeray does contest, he is likely to do so from either Mahim in central Mumbai, which includes the Shivaji Park neighbourhood where he lives, or from Nashik where MNS rules the municipal corporation. Raj’s close aide Nitin Sardesai is the Mahim MLA.

Political analyst Kumar Ketkar told The Telegraph: “Raj’s decision is certainly a shot in the arm for the demoralised party cadre, and is welcome as it adds some tadka to the otherwise bland state politics. His key objective behind the decision is to hurt the Shiv Sena. If the MNS does contest more than 250 seats, his decision could impact the Sena in 35-40 seats.”

Maharashtra has 288 Assembly seats.