Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray, 46, spoke to Hindustan Times on why he is supporting BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, his love-hate relationship with the BJP, his stand on issues such as the antimigrant violence unleashed by his partymen and his tussle with cousin and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to claim Sena chief late Bal Thackeray’s legacy.
MNS leader Raj Thackeray speaks to HT at his residence in Shivaji Park, central Mumbai. Anshuman Poyrekar/ HT photo
Is your support to Narendra Modi out of compulsion or by choice?
Who is going to compel me to support him? It's only today that (Sena-BJP) people have started chanting his name. I have been the only consistent one to say Modi deserves to be the PM since 2011 when I visited Gujarat. At that time (BJP president) Rajnath Singh did not say I was meddling in their internal affairs. In fact, the Sena was not even ready to back him. They were supporting LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj for the PM's post. They have suddenly changed their stance.
If the NDA doesn’t get a majority and allies propose a more acceptable face as the PM, will you still extend support?
I don’t know anyone who is as capable as Modi. He has proved himself in his state. My support is for Modi only and not the BJP or NDA.
Modi has been quoting the Gujarat model, while you say Maharashtra is more developed. Isn’t this a contradiction in view of your support to Modi?
Maharashtra’s progress is because of its many social and cultural institutions and movements over the decades--they have always been socially inclined, which is the state’s biggest plus point. In terms of governance, it is Gujarat which leads the pack. Modi’s strongest point is his contribution to the entire state and not just his constituency like what Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh or even Ashok Chavan did. Our state lacks such leaders.
Don’t you think the issue of sons-of-the-soil (anti-north Indian tirade) that you have raised will create trouble for Modi in north India?
Modi has never asked me for support, nor has the BJP. I haven’t joined the NDA, nor am I asking for ministries for my MPs. So why should it become an embarrassment for them? If I would not have supported him, I would have been dubbed a Congress stooge.
Were you considering joining the NDA after both Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde met you and spoke of joining forces? Did their offers come because you caused a dent in their vote banks in the 2009 polls?
They just wanted to pretend, they didn’t want to do anything actively. Since 1999, after they lost power in the state, they have not been able to regain it. My party came in 2006, but their numbers have been dipping even before that.
Do you think the Sena-BJP make for a weak opposition in the state?
These parties are working in tandem with the ruling Congress-NCP. Look at what happens in the state Assembly. On the toll issue, for instance, my agitation forced the government to shut down 66 toll plazas. Why did the Sena-BJP not raise these issues before? No one is asking them the reason for their silence on the issue.
If their opposition is so weak, why has the MNS not been able to occupy this space in the past five years?
These things take time. You have more expectations from an eight-year-old party than you have from parties, which are 50 and 100 years old.
Despite so many issues that plague Maharashtra, the MNS was not seen raising any of them. Only recently has the party raised the issue of toll tax.
This is because it is a visible issue, I have raised several which are not as visible. However, the media does not highlight them and only focusses on the controversial statements I make.
Isn't this too a sad reflection on the party, that the MNS has been identified with controversies and not issues of progress?
If I am leading a party, it should move the way I think is right. I will not give what others want. When the issue demands, I will be aggressive if that is the only way I can put my message across.
But it is unfortunate that elections are not contested on the agenda of development or economics, isn’t it?
That is true, people are clueless about the future and what they should do, but only know what they don’t want. Today, they are tired of the Congress and they want a change. The opposition never wins, it is the ruling party which loses.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray at his home in Mumbai's Shivaji Park. Anshuman Poyrekar/ HT photo
So, there is a chance even Modi, if he comes to power, might meet the same fate?
Exactly. But how many options do we have? There is someone who has done good work in his state and hence we are backing him.
In 2009, you contested 11 Lok Sabha seats and in Assembly polls you could also get 14 MLAs elected. Shouldn't you have contested more seats this time instead of 10?
For me it is more important to see how many seats you can win rather than contest all the seats to prove a point. Rather than stretching myself thin to contest all the 48 seats (in state), I thought I should concentrate on 10 and get results.
Was this done to benefit the BJP?
I didn’t do it for anybody’s gain. I will contest only those seats where I want to. If I wanted to contest only against the Shiv Sena, I would have put up candidates in all the 22 seats they are fighting.
Gadkari in an interview said that you had agreed to a tie-up with the BJP-Sena.
Both Gadkari and Munde met me and offered such a tieup, but none came with a concrete proposal.
Were you open to such a tie-up?
Such a tie-up was never possible. They just wanted to show they were extending a hand, without actually doing so.
You trust Modi, but do you trust the BJP as much?
In the present polls, it seems as if the BJP also doesn't trust itself. That is why they have only been rallying around Modi. They are not projecting the party, they are projecting Modi. Munde has said Uddhav and you should come together. Who is Munde to say that? If we have to come together, we don’t need anyone else to mediate between us. Why is everyone so interested in our family matters?
Isn't it unfortunate that the political discourse of both your parties revolves around Bal Thackeray and family ties?
It was unnecessary. I didn't start it. I was forced to react after they criticised me repeatedly despite my silence. If one has such inconsistency that he [referring to Uddhav] extends a hand of friendship at one point and calls me a backstabber at another, then he doesn’t have the calibre of being a politician. He is a misfit in politics.
Are you going to highlight the issue of migrants again?
Migration is a problem that plagues cities across the world. In India, when many of our prime ministers have come from Uttar Pradesh, why are so many from that state migrating to others for jobs? Why should Maharashtra be burdened with outsiders and pressure put on our infrastructure?
But a violent agitation may not be a solution to this problem?
You only see the violence, but you refuse to understand the reasons behind it. It was only because of our agitation that Mamata Bannerjee made it compulsory for railway exams to be conducted in regional languages. If you don’t understand the language of appeals, then how should we get our demands fulfilled? I don’t feel like hitting anyone or getting violent; I don’t resort to violence as a first step, it is only the last one. If the government pays heed only after violence, then I am left with no choice.
Maharashtra's chief minister had promised to bring in a new toll policy before the poll code of conduct, but that has not happened.
Exactly. He had promised to close 22 toll plazas after my meeting with him, but he hasn’t. Let the polls get over, I will take up this issue again. If the agitation gets violent and then you shut those 22 toll plazas, then isn’t the government to be blamed for encouraging it?
So we will see more violent agitations in the next few months?
We will be more aggressive on these issues.