Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray on Sunday backed BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi even as he went against the saffron party’s wishes and announced he would be contesting the Lok Sabha elections.
Releasing a first list of seven names, Raj, 45, fielded candidates against the Shiv Sena in six seats and against the BJP in one. Despite his support of Modi, the firebrand MNS chief is likely to do more damage than good to the prospects of the NDA candidates by splitting the anti-Congress votes.
At a recent meeting, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari had requested the MNS chief not to field candidates against the NDA to avoid division of votes. Gadkari’s overture to Raj had not gone down well with Sena chief Uddav Thackeray.
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The MNS contested 12 seats in the 2009 general elections, winning none but polling over a lakh votes in nine constituencies in the Mumbai-Pune-Nashik belt. These are the same areas the MNS is contesting this time and where the Sena-BJP combine is hoping to win a few seats. In that election, the saffron combine did not win a single seat in Mumbai, and even lost Thane, Kalyan and Nashik due to a division of votes caused by the MNS.
“We will be contesting Lok Sabha polls and my MPs will be backing BJP’s Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate. So now all of you should get to work and back him 100%,” Raj told MNS cadre at a foundation day function.
“There was a buzz that I was very quiet and there was no activity. But my strategy is to let everyone talk first and then make my move. We will show our strength to everyone in the elections and I am sure we will win a few MP seats,” he added.
The MNS, a rival offshoot of the hardline right-wing Shiv Sena, has a record of inciting riots and violence, mainly in its opposition of migrants from north India, who it sees as a threat to the local Marathi workforce. Recently, the MNS had led a campaign against toll collection on highways and its cadre had vandalized toll booths in several cities in Maharashtra.
Read: Has Raj Thackeray's MNS lost appeal in Mumbai?
Raj has fielded Bala Nandgaonkar against sitting Congress MP Milind Deora in Mumbai South, but the MNS legislator might end up eating into Sena candidate Arvind Sawant’s votes in Marathi stronghold areas like Lalbaug-Parel and Worli.
A similar situation could be created in the Marathi heartland areas of South Central constituency, where MNS youth candidate Aditya Shirodkar will take on the Sena’s Rahul Shewale and sitting MP Eknath Gaikwad of the Congress.
A second list of seven to eight candidates may be announced in the next few days, which would mean the MNS would be contesting 17-20 seats in all, a senior MNS legislator said.
Read: Trouble for BJP as Raj Thackeray plans to contest Lok Sabha polls