Mumbai (The Hindu) : As political parties hit the campaign trail in the run-up to the civic polls, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) campaign appears to be a non-starter. The party, which had sent 13 MLAs to the Legislative Assembly in 2009, has just one now. Also, many of its 28 corporators in the BMC have left for other parties, and party chief Raj Thackeray has been mostly silent on his pet peeve: the gradual decline of Mumbai.
While the party’s 201 candidates are hoping that Raj turns on his charisma and oratory skills for the campaign, his estranged cousin and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray is slugging it out on a daily basis with the BJP, addressing two meetings a day in the city.
Raj, on the other hand, is expected to address just four public meetings before the elections on February 21.
MNS leader Shirish Sawant, who handles the party’s campaign, says they are yet to show their hand. “Let these so-called friends fight it out among themselves. We will open up at the right time.”
Party general secretary Shalini Thackeray added, “In our party, we have only one star campaigner and that is Raj Thackeray. He will address about four public meetings in Mumbai, dates for which have not yet been announced. Let others talk, but our leader knows when to make noise and how to make the right kind of noise at the right time. We still have 10 days of campaigning left.”
She pointed to the work done by the MNS in Nashik, saying they have turned the city around in just five years. “Be it roads, water or other resources, we have shown how a different kind of development can be done. Many celebrities from the Marathi film industry, who have seen the development work in Nashik, may also campaign for us. About 3,500 Mumbaikars were taken to Nashik to see the work done by us there. They will also spread the word about us in Mumbai.”
The party has already nominated leaders for civic polls in different cities: Senior leader Bala Nandgaonkar is leading the campaign in Pune, Avinash Abhyankar is heading the Nashik campaign while in Mumbai, Nitin Sardesai and Shirish Sawant are in charge. Ms. Thackeray is handling the western suburbs.
Mr. Nandgaonkar said Raj might address a couple of meetings in Pune, and do some road shows. His wife Sharmila and son Amit are also expected to do road shows in Pune. Raj is not scheduled to address many meetings in Nashik. “We are already contesting here on local developmental issues,” Mr. Nandgaonkar said.
Senior journalist Ajay Vaidya said this election is being seen as a fight for the MNS’s survival, with allegations of lack of credibility and consistency on issues it takes up stacked against it. “Despite his strong stance against North Indians, Raj has given tickets to some North Indians. He also left the anti-toll agitation midway. The Marathi manoos, who backed him in earlier elections, have now moved back to the Shiv Sena. The party is left with no issue to attract people.”
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