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Raj Thackeray launches Maharashtra Navnirman Sena

Estranged nephew of Shiv Sena supremo bal Thackeray launches his new political party, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

March 9, 2006

Raj Thackeray launches Navnirman senaThe party is launched, but is it ready for primetime?

Nobody knows. Rack Thackeray does not particularly court the Press, a vestige of his tough-talking days in the Shiv Sena. However, even after he launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena by unfurling its flag blue, saffron and green against white flag, when he decided to accomodate the Press, he did not much to say. The ideology of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena would only be revealed later, he said.

Yet, Raj Thackeray knows that his party will face the electorate in the next Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation next year. Therein lies the problem faced by raj and his fledgling party. Which way to turn? Where is the potential ideological space? You have a party, you have a leader and a flag and political ambitions, but what does the party stand for?

There are some indications. Navnirman - reconstruction - is something which Maharashtra needs. Pretty much everyone from the ardent Shiv Sena supporter to the NCP chap agrees to that. Which way should that reconstruction proceed?

Raj Thackeray's instincts tell him to be a more hardcore, purer Sena. This was evident from the way Raj jumped into the Maharashtrian vs Bihari controversy among doctors and warned the 'outsiders'. Will this work? Or should he move in the opposite direction?

The political space in Maharashtra is pretty well covered by the existing political parties. The Congress and the NCP bring up the centre (with the NCP often showing signs of rightist attitudes - the dance bar ban, attacks on academicians in Pune), the Shiv Sena brings up the hard right end, while the BJP plays soft rightist. Left is practically invisible, thanks to the Sena which destroyed them while they gained ground during the initial years of the Sena. Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena can hardly look to occupy the empty left corner. So where will he go?

Two opinions exist. One, that the Navnirman Sena would try to position itself as a super-Sena - basically the Sena in ideology, but as a party without the corruption and the historical baggage. After all, he did not leave the party because of an ideological battle, but because of differences on the implementation of that ideology and his own political marginalisation by his cousin Uddhav Thackeray, the son of Bal Thackeray. This can definitely attract those who dislike the current Sena establishment and still believe in the Sena ideology. Can this work? The Sena was built on discontent and a feeling of disempowerment by the Maharashtrian middle class and unemployed. However, the middle classes have drifted away, thanks to capitalisation and a slow and reluctant acceptance of the service industry and have started looking at entrepreneurship, job in the private industry. Reservation of jobs in the government for Maharahtrians do not have same ring anymore, considering the large number of Maharashtrian boys and girls signing up for computer classes and finding jobs in the private sector. The Navnirman Sena would have its instincts telling it to take a hard Hindustva, pro-Maharashtra line, while knowing full well that the audience for that is decreasing even in the Sena stronghold of Mumbai.

Two, Raj can accept the current political realities and try to be a true reconstruction army. His followers are young, they do not have much of the ideological baggage of Sena and as a new party can have a honeymoon period. Raj Thackeray can try and position Navnirman Sena as a party that will truly reconstruct Maharashtra. It has already been called a 'failed state', the US President did nto even bother to visit the foremost metropoitan city in the country, infotech biggies are making a beeline to Hyderabad, Bangalore and even to Kolkatta, the state has acute power shortage which is unacceptable for the manufacturing hub of the country - there are enough things to recontruct in the state! But will such a positive, forward-looking vision work? It will necessarily have to be inclusive and the outsider-talk will not do. Do it, and you are instantly branded another version of the Sena, and anything you say will not make any difference to anyone. 

The state needs a recontructor to bring back its glory days. It still has the potential to be truly cosmopolitan, bring back the IT and service industries which are the fastest growing sectors, rectify the power situation, imporve the poverty levels in rural Maharashtra and Konkan, weed out corruption... But such an agenda may bore the hotheads who inevitably has to form the grassroots of any party in India. Which way will the Navnirman Sena turn?



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