Raj Thackeray – The 'leader' of the Marathi manoos

By Biplob Ghosal | Updated: Oct 10, 2014, 17:10 PM IST

A firebrand leader in Maharashtra, Raj Thackeray's style of politics is marked with exclusivism and provocation.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief often targets Hindi-speaking migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, describing them as outsiders who jeopardise the job prospects of Marathi manoos.

Although his salvo against Biharis and threats to "deal" with Hindi TV news channels have upset all political parties, Raj enjoys huge support of the Marathi manoos. This is the reason why the ruling parties are reluctant in taking any action against the fiery leader.

Raj Thackeray, known for his provocative speeches, just like his uncle Balasaheb Thackeray, wanted to be a cartoonist for the Walt Disney, but destiny had other plans. Born on July 14, 1968, Swarraj Srikant Thackeray, popularly known as Raj Thackeray, attended the Bal Mohan Vidya Mandir School in Dadar and later took a degree from JJ School of Art. The painter, cartoonist, photographer was soon inclined towards politics.

Once seen as a potential successor to Balasaheb, Raj parted ways with the then Shiv Sena chief to form his own party in 2006 after being superseded in the succession plan by his cousin Uddhav.

As soon as Thackeray announced the formation of his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), he was backed by a number of Shiv Sena supporters. He had convinced them that Shiv Sena had lost its ability to protect the interests of the Marathi manoos.

His tenure so far as the MNS chief has been marked by provocative statements and violent protests. Whether it is the demand for Marathi-only signboards in Maharashtra or fighting for sacked Jet Airways employees, Raj's rising political clout could never be ignored by the political parties in the state.

Although separated, the rift and competition between the MNS and the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray has from time to time grabbed attention. Raj has always insisted that his party had nothing to do with the Shiv Sena, whose ideology is pro-Hindutva. The MNS' ideology is fighting for the rights of the people of Maharashtra, insists Raj.

Raj had on May 31 this year declared at a rally that he would contest the Assembly Elections and that he would also be the chief ministerial candidate. However, Raj later declared that he is now averse to contest the upcoming polls.

In 2009, the MNS had won 13 seats in the 288-member Assembly. The party managed to split Shiv Sena-BJP anti-incumbency vote, helping the Congress-NCP combine in winning another term.

In the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, all 10 MNS candidates lost their deposits while the MNS vote share decreased from 4.7 percent in 2009 to 0.13 percent.

The MNS leader shares love-hate relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Before Lok Sabha polls, Raj was boastful about Modi. He had not only declared support to Modi but also put up Lok Sabha candidates opposite to only Shiv Sena nominees - except in Pune. However, ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly Elections, the MNS chief has slammed the Prime Minister for only focusing on Gujarat and not concentrating on the rest of the country. Notably, Shiv Sena and the BJP have called off their alliance and are fighting on their own in the October 15 polls.

Raj is married to Sharmila, who is the daughter of a Marathi filmmaker. The couple has a son, Amit, and a daughter, Urvashi.