Explained: How Raj Thackeray’s ‘Marathi manoos’ pride has become a sticking point ahead of his Ayodhya visit


Raj Thackeray’s upcoming visit to Ayodhya on 5 June has been making news for all the wrong reasons.

A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP has openly declared that he won’t allow the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief to enter the city till he tendered a public apology for humiliating north Indians.

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the MP from Kaiserganj Lok Sabha constituency and one of the leaders of the Ram Mandir movement, said, “Will not allow Raj Thackeray, who humiliates north Indians, enter the Ayodhya border.”

“Before coming to Ayodhya, Raj Thackeray should apologise to all North Indians with folded hands,” he said.

As the controversy grows over the Thackeray’s visit to the temple city and his attempt of becoming a new saffron icon, we take a look at the genesis of the issue and why the BJP MP seems adamant on being a roadblock.

Also read: Raj Thackeray: Why the ‘angry man of Maharashtra’ is so active again

Anti-migrant stance

When Raj Thackeray formed the MNS back in 2006, his aim was to prove himself as his uncle Bal Thackeray’s real political heir. When the development plant didn’t work, Thackeray adopted the ‘Marathi manoos’ agenda and took a hard standpoint against migrants, especially those from the North — Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

In 2008, Raj went on a tirade against those who moved from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra and even went after Amitabh Bachchan. In many of his early 2008 rallies, he asserted that the superstar was “more interested” in his home state of Uttar Pradesh rather than Maharashtra.

In another party function, Thackeray was quoted as saying, “Though he (Amitabh) has become a star in Mumbai, his interest is in Uttar Pradesh. That is why he was trying to be an ambassador of UP rather than Maharashtra. That is why though he achieved everything in Mumbai, when it came to elections, Amitabh chose Uttar Pradesh.”

In February 2008, MNS workers clashed with the Samajwadi Party in Mumbai’s Dadar, assaulted taxi drivers from north India, and vandalised their vehicles. Thackeray justified the attacks saying it was a reaction to the uncontrolled ‘dadagiri’ of migrants and leaders from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In October of the same year, his party workers beat up North Indian candidates appearing for the all-India Railway Recruitment Board entrance exam. This led to an outrage from Bihar’s prominent leaders — Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. While Lalu called Raj Thackeray as a “mental case, the latter had spoken to then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, urging him to provide protection to the migrants from Bihar.

Thackeray was then arrested in Ratnagiri, an arrest that ignited violence by his supporters. Irate supporters went on the rampage torching public transport and telling office goers to return home.

Through the years, despite his political losses, he kept up his anti-migrant posturing. In 2012, attributed the rising crime rate in Mumbai to the migrants, mainly north Indians.

He also attributed the high incidence of coronavirus cases in the state to migrant workers.

Maharashtra is the most industrialised state in India which attracts a large number of workers from other states. The places from where these workers come lacked enough testing facilities. During the lockdown last year, I had suggested that migrant workers who returned to their native places should be tested, but it was not done," the MNS chief was quoted as saying.

‘Won’t allow him in Ayodhya’

Raj Thackeray’s reinvention as the new Hindutva icon — in light of the Hanuman Chalisa row raging in Maharashtra — has hit a roadblock after his visit to Ayodhya has hit a snag.

On 17 April, Raj Thackeray at Pune had announced that he would visit Ayodhya on 5 June to seek blessings of Lord Ram.

“On 5 June, I will go to Ayodhya along with other MNS workers to have darshan of Lord Ram. I appeal to other people also to come to Ayodhya,” Thackeray had said in a press conference.

However, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the six-time MP from Kaiserganj has vociferously opposed Thackeray’s visit, demanding an apology for his violent campaign against north Indian migrants in 2008. He said he would not allow the MNS chief to enter Ayodhya on 5 June even if he apologises.

On 9 May, he also called for a meeting of top saints and head priests (Mahants) of all temples in Ayodhya on Tuesday to devise a strategy to stop the MNS chief from entering the city, the Hindustan Times reported.

Singh also requested Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath not to meet Thackeray till he apologised to the North Indians.

BJP in a conundrum

Singh’s opposition to Raj Thackeray’s Ayodhya visit has become a sticking point for the BJP.

The resistance to Thackeray’s visit comes at a time when many political experts have noted that the MNS has been cosying up to the BJP, ahead of the Mumbai civic body elections.

As Kapil Patil, a research assistant with the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, noted in a PTI report that Raj Thackeray recently had meetings with BJP leaders — state unit chief Chandrakant Patil, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, former Maharashtra minister Ashish Shelar and Union minister Nitin Gadkari.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra, an alliance of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, has slammed the MNS for working in tandem with the BJP. While the BJP has rejected the suggestion, the party has been supporting Thackeray’s cause in Maharashtra.

With inputs from agencies

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Explained: How Raj Thackeray’s ‘Marathi manoos’ pride has become a sticking point ahead of his Ayodhya visit
Explained: How Raj Thackeray’s ‘Marathi manoos’ pride has become a sticking point ahead of his Ayodhya visit
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