To Counter Uddhav Thackeray Factor, BJP's Pick Is His Estranged Cousin Raj

Raj Thackeray reached Delhi last night and has now reached the residence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah

Raj Thackeray is in talks with the BJP for an alliance for the Lok Sabha election


The BJP's push to maximise its Lok Sabha seats tally in Maharashtra is likely to resurrect Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) from political oblivion. Determined to blunt the challenge by the Uddhav Thackeray-led party, the BJP has reached out to his estranged cousin.

Raj Thackeray reached Delhi last night and met Union Home Minister Amit Shah today, apparently to discuss his party's possible entry into the NDA. "I was told to come to Delhi. So I came. Let's see," the MNS chief said on arriving in the national capital. He did not speak to the media after the meeting.

Senior MNS leader Bala Nandgaonkar said in Mumbai that the talks on Lok Sabha polls between the two leaders were "positive", and details will be shared in a day or two.

The MNS, it is learnt, wants three seats - South Mumbai, Shirdi and Nashik.

Why Is BJP Wooing MNS

The answer to why the BJP is reaching out to MNS lies in how Maharashtra's political landscape has transformed since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the last general election, the BJP and the Shiv Sena contested the polls together. The alliance decimated rivals and won 41 out of the state's 48 seats. Months later, it clinched another victory in the state polls. But differences over sharing power led to the Sena parting ways with the NDA. The Shiv Sena, then led by Uddhav Thackeray, teamed up with NCP and the Congress to form the government. But more drama was to follow. In 2022, Sena leader Eknath Shinde led a mutiny that toppled the Uddhav Thackeray government. Mr Shinde then joined ranks with BJP to take over. In the legal battle that followed, Uddhav Thackeray lost his party's name and symbol and his camp was named Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray).

In a strikingly similar manner, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP split after a rebellion led by his nephew Ajit Pawar. The NCP veteran, too, lost his party's name and symbol and now leads a faction named NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar). So from a straight contest in 2019, the Maharashtra Lok Sabha fight is now a multipronged battle with the BJP, NCP and Shiv Sena on one side and the Congress and the camps led by Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray on the other.

The BJP knows that it is a tricky terrain and it is in no mood to take chances in the politically-significant state that is critical to the BJP's target to win 370 Lok Sabha seats. So to counter the Uddhav Thackeray factor, it has reached out to his cousin Raj.

MNS Eyes Big Return

Founded in 2006 after Raj Thackeray walked out of Shiv Sena over differences with cousin Uddhav, the MNS recorded its best electoral performance in the 2009 state polls when it won 13 seats. In the 2014 elections, however, it emerged as the big loser, winning just one seat. In the 2019 polls, too, its tally remained unchanged.

Over the past decade, Raj Thackeray has struggled to stay in the political limelight with often controversial remarks in the media. When the Shiv Sena split, he went all out against his estranged cousin, holding him responsible for the party's crisis. He has also warmed up to Eknath Shinde, with the two leaders meeting on several occasions.

If the seat-sharing talks with the BJP are finalised, the MNS may get a shot at reviving its political fortunes.