When Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) won 29 seats in the Pune Municipal Corporation elections in 2012, it was quite unexpected for all. After the results were declared, Raj visited his party headquarter at the Z-bridge corner in Narayan Peth and addressed the media. He had said then, "Punekars have given me a special place in their heart. I will always watch for this city henceforth".
About one and half years before, Puneites experienced this when news about demolishing Balgandharva Rangmandir came in. There was a huge controversy around this news but Raj already had a blueprint for what should be done there. With a big auditorium, a separate hall for experimental plays and amphitheatre was included in his blueprint. While other politicians were busy politicising the issue, Raj's blueprint was already popular amongst citizens. Even if MNS has less hold in Pune city today, it's quite clear that Raj has a special focus on this city.
Apart from the political circle, Raj also mingles with his friends from cultural and other fields. His friend Prasad Purandare says, "When Raj meets his friends, there is no discussion on politics. He loves Pune city a lot. We both are die-hard fans of Lata didi and listen to her songs, discuss it when we meet. He also meets his other friends Sudhir Gadgil and Anil Shidore when he is in Pune."
Whenever Raj visits Pune, he does all the things a typical Punekar would do. He meets Shivshahir Babasaheb Purandare and discusses historical topics with him, then goes ahead for a quick bite at Vaishali hotel on Fergusson road. Punekars get to know of his visit to Vaishali when his driver parks the car in no-parking and some alert citizen informs the police and a challan is issued to him. Many journalists are witness to this story.
A tussle between police and Raj along with his party workers is not new. Whenever Raj plans a public rally in Pune, police insist on having adequate parking arrangements and a big ground. In 2008-09, when Raj had launched an agitation against migrants, he did not get ground and police did not issue permission. MNS, on its own, declared that the rally would take place at Tilak chowk near Alka talkies and police had to give in by granting last-minute permission to the rally. When Raj interviewed Sharad Pawar on the grounds of BMCC, it was a historic moment. After this interview, Pawar tried to get Raj along with him, but he did not succeed. After state elections, Pawar managed to get Uddhav on his side but Raj failed to gather the numbers.
Party workers admire and fear Raj equally. When Raj enquires about internal politics, many of them are taken to the cleaners. Party workers who without any fear go on a rampage outside, are silent when with Raj.
On the occasion of his 52nd birthday, Raj's identity as a politician, friend, mentor stays on. Power will come and go in politics, but the cord that binds the leader and his followers are important and Raj has it intact.