MUMBAI: This Lok Sabha poll campaign has seen the re-emergence of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray as an effective campaigner with his meetings across Maharashtra attracting good crowds. This has upset the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena campaign in pockets, with the advantage flowing to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine.

Raj Thackeray in a seeries of public meetings in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik,Nanded, Solapur, Kolhapur,Satara,Raigad has been targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah warning voters that their return to power will not be good for the country. He has ridiculed their national security claims, and decried their failure to fulfil the 2014 Lok Sabha promises.

His meetings are totally different from the traditional election rallies. He does his home work well, focussed on his targets and speaks with facts and figures through video presentations.He calls out Narendra Modi and Amit Shah by name, accuses them of spin, lies and deceit. He asks raises questions in simple language, drawing a response from the crowds.

The BJP and the Shiv Sena, visibly unnerved, have been responding by accusing him and his party of working as the B Team of the Congress and NCP. However, this does not seem to faze Raj Thackeray who has a good relationship with Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar.

Raj Thackeray has decided not to contest the Lok Sabha polls, his meetings are attracting the youth mainly because of his style, hardhitting rhetoric and the presentation. It is a breakaway from the labourious election meetings in the state, and clearly a novelty that is striking a chord with the voters. He is using the Lok Sabha platform to canvas for the state elections, on which he seems to have a firm eye.

A rattled chief minister Devendra Fadnavis described Raj Thackeray as “Baramaticha Popat" ( Parrot of Baramati) suggesting that the MNS chief is playing into the hands of Pawar. Although Raj Thackeray 's critics question the impact of his meetings on polling, worry within the ruling dispesnation is evident.

However, on the flip side his emergence has showcased the absence of orators within the Opposition, with leaders who have little appeal in the urban areas. The Congress-NCP does not have state level leaders who can attract urban voters through their oratory and argument. It is largely because of this that Pawar has given a free run to Raj Thackeray and he is making the most of it, without the pressure of winning seats in these polls.

The Shiv Sena that had spent the last four years in opposing its own ally, the BJP lost its relevance after Udhav Thackeray tamely returned to the alliance. The space he vacated is fast being occupied by Raj Thackeray. Significantly, the BJP has a presence in Maharashtra not because of the RSS but due to defectors from the Congress and the NCP, mostly local leaders from the Maratha community.

The Shiv Sena will face a challenge from Raj Thackeray led party which could cut into its Marathi votes in Mumbai and nearby cities, Nashik and partly in Pune in the state polls. Besides, it is finding it difficult to win support from the Gujaratis and North Indians living in Mumbai.

Raj Thackeray's attack on Modi and Shah could become sharper in the state assembly polls , especially on his favourite theme of how they promoted the interests of Gujarat at the expense of Maharashtra.