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HindustanTimes Sat,12 Jul 2014

Cong-NCP divided on how to handle Raj Thackeray

Ketaki Ghoge , Hindustan Times  Mumbai, February 22, 2014
First Published: 10:58 IST(22/2/2014) | Last Updated: 11:02 IST(22/2/2014)

Are the ruling allies soft-pedaling action against Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) over its toll agitation? There may be no clear answer, as there is difference of opinion between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on how to handle the MNS chief.

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When Thackeray relaunched his toll agitation last month, the view in the alliance, largely pushed by the NCP, was that he should be given a long rope to come into limelight before the 2014 polls. In 2009, the MNS had split saffron votes giving a clear lead to Congress-NCP candidates in the Mumbai-Thane belt.

The political dynamics have changed since, with the NCP now keen on a crackdown on the MNS agitation and Congress confused about its stance.

“There is a sentiment in the party that Raj should not be allowed to become too big as he is unlikely to get the kind of support he got in 2009 polls in the absence of his anti-migrant issue. The MNS has also damaged NCP’s prospects in some areas, and there is no reason to help him,” said a senior NCP functionary.

The Congress however is confused over Thackeray, with functionaries admitting that Chavan rarely keeps them in loop over such strategies. “There is no clear strategy like in 2009 when we had worked tacitly with the MNS to damage the Shiv Sena,” admitted a senior minister.

Officially, the Congress denies it was ever keen on using the MNS to its advantage for the upcoming polls.

“The MNS is unlikely to reap any political dividends over the toll agitation as everyone has seen Thackeray’s track record. The issue will resonate with motorists, but how big is this chunk of voters?” said Congress spokesperson Anant Gadgil.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik pointed out, “Our party has maintained that those who take law in their hands should be punished.”


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