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Saturday, April 19, 2014

In MNS Bastion, Raj Thackeray’s Political Future At Stake

By Shaddha Kamble | Nashik

ELECTION REPORT About 170 km from Mumbai, along the river Godavari, Raj Thackeray will be waging his biggest battle, one to get a firmer grip on his toehold in Maharashtra's political landscape and to grow. Mostly, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena cadre members like to think that the battle is to be waged in October, when Assembly elections are held. 

But journeying into the bastion of the young party, you cannot escape the feeling that the MNS could be missing the bus in its own backyard. For the disappointment among the locals over the party's poor performance in the civic body is apparent everywhere in the little town.
That its leader Thackeray announced his support for BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has only muddied the waters some more, the changes likely to have a lasting impact on the political scenario of the Nashik Lok Sabha constituency now and on its Assembly segments later this year.

Nashik, which has projected as the blueprint of a development plan that is the brainchild of MNS chief Raj Thackeray, has three MNS MLAs in the city. The Nashik Lok Sabha constituency comprises Nashik East, Nashik Central, Nashik West, Deolali, Igatpuri and Sinnar assembly constituencies. With 40 corporators in the 122 member municipal corporation, the MNS is ruling the corporation, with its ally BJP, since 2012.

The people of Nashik voted for the MNS in the 2009 general election and in the 2012 civic election on the issues of migrants, the party's promise of more Marathi presence in education, entrepreneurship and its 'blueprint of development' for the city. Two years after the municipal elections, people say they are curious to see this 'blueprint of development' but are unaware when they will be able to finally see it, and that is now forcing them to think twice before voting for the Lok Sabha election to be held on Thursday. 

The MNS has fielded Dr Pradeep Pawar, a well-known gynaecologist, against the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Chhagan Bhujbal, Shiv Sena-BJP candidate Hemant Godse and Aam Adami Party candidate Vijay Pandhare in the Nashik Lok Sabha constituency. Godse, who contested the Lok Sabha elections from MNS in 2009, lost to Bhujbal's nephew Sameer by only 22,000 votes. But he switched to the Shiv Sena in the last year following differences in the party. 

MNS leaders claim that the development work such as beautification of Goda ghat (a project called Goda Park) has been initiated, road works worth Rs 600 crore and other schemes are underway in the city. "In just two years, the people are questioning us over our performance in the civic body because it clearly shows that they have more expectations from us and not from other political parities," said Atul Chandak, state general secretary of the MNS. 

But it is not only the usual grouses against nil-performance. Interestingly, the MNS chief's support to Modi for the prime minister's post has confused not only its cadre but the people as well. Pawar, the MNS candidate, has distributed handbills in Gujarati language with Modi's photo on it. This is more than just odd. There is a Sena-BJP candidate in the fray, a promising contestant who is already trying to ride the Modi wave. 

The MNS candidate also jumping on board is confusing at best, conspiracy at worst. The move is seen by the MNS cadre and the people as an attempt to divide Marathi votes. The senior Bhujbal who is in the fray this year is not complaining - at least some of the benefits of a split Marathi vote should come his way. Godse, who is banking upon the Modi wave apart from his development work, hopes to get the votes he got in 2009 and is likely to give a tough fight to Bhujbal, who is being targeted by all the other candidates over corruption charges and dynasty politics. 

Chhagan Bhujbal, the NCP leader and Public Works Department (PWD) minister, said that the MNS has done no development work in the city. "The ruling MNS in the civic body has done zero development work in past two years. It is disgusting. Surprisingly, it is not able to resolve basic issues such as water and solid waste management in the city despite being rapped by the High court," Bhujbal told Firstpost.
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