In a dramatic turn of events, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray met with Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Tuesday, hinting at a potential pre-poll alliance in Maharashtra. While an official announcement is pending, Raj appears poised to join the BJP’s urgent quest for a clean sweep in Maharashtra.

Despite drawing massive crowds at rallies, Raj Thackeray’s MNS has historically struggled to secure more than single-digit vote shares. However, for the BJP, Raj’s support is crucial to counter the challenge posed by the Uddhav Thackeray-Sharad Pawar-Congress alliance in the State. Maharashtra, with its 48 Lok Sabha seats, holds significant strategic value for the BJP.

The BJP is not only trying to woo Raj Thackeray but also attempting to mend fences with former regional alliance partners in Maharashtra like the Rashtriya Samaj Party led by Mahadev Jankar and the Rayat Kranti Shetkari Sanghatana led by Sadabhau Khot. These parties had distanced themselves from the BJP, alleging a “use and throw” policy.

Pitting Raj against Uddhav

In December 2005, Raj Thackeray broke away from the Sena, accusing Uddhav of lacking the leadership prowess needed to steer the party. However, Uddhav, with his calm and composed demeanour, countered Raj’s fiery approach. Despite facing challenges, Uddhav not only maintained his stronghold in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, but also bolstered the alliance with the BJP, effectively keeping Raj at bay. Uddhav staunchly refused any overtures from his cousin to join hands in the State politics.

Now, with Uddhav and the BJP going their separate ways, Raj sees an opportunity for his political resurgence. The BJP, on the other hand, sees Raj as a key figure in targeting Uddhav and attracting the voter base dedicated to the “Thackeray Hindutva” ideology.

Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar find themselves in a precarious position, having lost their party names, symbols and a significant number of elected representatives. Despite this, the BJP is actively seeking new partners in Maharashtra to challenge them. “Uddhav Thackeray is conducting a whirlwind tour to rally support and ensure that the Shiv Sena’s mass base remains intact, while Sharad Pawar is engaging in a fierce battle against his nephew on all fronts. As BJP expected, both leaders have not succumbed even after the huge setbacks they got after losing their parties to defectors,” said Vishwas Patil, a scribe and political observer.

Political analysts suggest that the fight in Maharashtra is not about Modi versus Rahul Gandhi; it’s about the BJP vs Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar and the Congress.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 23 seats and the Shiv Sena 18 in Maharashtra. The BJP initially aimed to surpass this tally of 41 with the help of Eknath Shinde. However, when internal surveys showed unfavourable figures, the BJP brought Ajit Pawar into the fold. Despite these efforts, both BJP’s assessments and other surveys indicate that victory is not guaranteed and the opposition is gearing up to put up a tough fight. Not surprisingly, every single seat and alliance matters to the BJP in Maharashtra!