Mumbai: Undaunted by the political drubbing in the recent Lok Sabha elections, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray projected himself as a chief minister for the ensuing assembly elections in Maharashtra.
Thackeray, 45, declared that he would not only contest the assembly elections, but also head the government, if his party was voted to power.
The development - which was greeted with scorn by the Congress - came even as the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena were still debating over who should be projected as the chief ministerial candidate.
If he does contest the elections, Thackeray would become the second from the Thackeray family to contest an election. Earlier, his cousin and senior MNS leader Shalini Thakre had set a precedent.
"Raj Thackeray will directly contest the assembly elections. People really love us. But if we succeed in winning their trust and they give a verdict in favour of my party, that I shall lead the MNS government," he declared to a thunderous ovation from a huge gathering in his first rally after the Lok Sabha elections.
Lauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi for leading the BJP-led NDA to a spectacular victory in 2014 Lok Sabha, Thackeray said that it was the "Modi effect" which had prompted him to take the electoral plunge in state politics.
"We may suffered a setback. After a careful study of the Lok Sabha results, I am confident that MNS will surge ahead in the assembly elections. That's why I have taken this decision (to contest elections)," Thackeray said.
The announcement which took political circles by surprise is likely to force the BJP-SS and its allies to re-think on their strategies to grab power from the Congress-NCP alliance which has been ruling the state continuously since 1999.
Nephew of the late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, Raj Thackeray had quit the party in 2006 following irreconciliable differences with cousin Uddhav Thackeray, who is now the Shiv Sena president.
An unabashed admirer of Modi, Raj Thackeray had openly supported the BJP leader for PM, but still put up 10 candidates against the NDA in the state, all of whom were routed.