His party may not be contesting the ongoing Lok Sabha polls but Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has ensured significant attention as he campaigns in Maharashtra against the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena.
So far, he has addressed around a dozen rallies in different parts of the state and his prime targets of attack are Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, at whom he takes embarrassing potshots.
In his campaign, which goes to favour the Opposition Congress-NCP combine, Raj Thackeray has introduced a hitherto-unseen experiment of an audio-video element which punctuates his hard-hitting speeches.
"The response we are getting is tremendous. Even people in other states want Raj saheb to hold such rallies. There's nothing new in the content, but we are putting things in the correct perspective which has caught the public psyche," MNS spokesperson Nitin Sardesai told IANS.
In the meantime, videos of Raj Thackeray's rallies are now being translated, dubbed or subtitled in various languages.
The MNS was floated by Raj Thackeray in 2006 after parting ways with the Shiv Sena due to differences with his cousin Uddhav Thackeray.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party had fielded nine candidates in Maharashtra but none of them won.
In 2009, the MNS polled 4.6 per cent of the total votes.
Raj Thackeray's rallies, despite there being no MNS candidate in fray this time, have not gone unnoticed, either by the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena or the Opposition Congress-NCP coalitions.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has compared him to someone "dancing uninvited in a wedding."
However, seething ally Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray took a feather out of his estranged cousin's hat by playing an audio-video tape at a couple of his rallies on Rahul Gandhi's comments on Veer Savarkar.
BJP state spokesperson Shain N. C. dismisses Raj Thackeray's rallies as "inconsequential" since he's not even in the electoral fray.
"The audio-videos need to be authenticated. Remember, it's the same Raj Thackeray who once praised PM Modi. So now his credibility is questionable," Shaina told IANS.
She added that the voters will realize the difference between the time-tested party BJP and the "cheap gimmicks indulged in by the likes of Raj Thackeray. We have a lot to say, but will do it at the appropriate time," she said.
NCP's Nawab Malik is happy at Raj Thackeray's efforts to rally support for the Opposition.
"See, he's exposing the lies of the government, the BJP and PM Modi. This is good and will be welcomed by all those who want truth and probity in public life," Malik told IANS.
State Congress Vice-President Ratnakar Mahajan said for Raj Thackeray, "it's a kind of a self-cleansing exercise since he was once a diehard fan of Modi and Gujarat model of development" in 2014.
"He has realized, maybe belatedly, how the BJP government played a fraud on the people in past five years. We have been exposing them continuously since demonetization and also play audios-videos of their fake claims in our party training camps," Mahajan told IANS.
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