The name Akhilesh Chaubey on the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) list of candidates immediately strikes one as odd.
Chaubey is north Indian. The MNS has made a name for itself by targeting ‘outsiders’, including people with north Indian origins.
So why has the MNS picked Chaubey, who traces his roots to Jaunpur in UP, as its candidate from Kandivli (East)? Is the MNS mending its anti-migrant ways or are they merely being opportunists?
For starters, the constituency has the highest number of voters with north Indian backgrounds – its population of 90,000 makes up for one-third of the total electorate.
An advocate by profession, Chaubey is the first person of north Indian origin to be fielded by the MNS in the assembly polls. As general secretary of the party’s legal cell, he has been at the forefront of party chief Raj Thackeray’s legal battles that arose out of his alleged anti-migrant speeches and related violence. Ironically, this is the same man now seeking north Indian votes.
“We are very clear that we will not attack or oppose any outsider who has been staying here and has ‘absorbed’ the local culture and traditions,” says Chaubey. “I am an example of that - a local who was born and raised here and consider myself a Maharashtrian.”
So who exactly does the MNS target? “Those who come to Mumbai with no agenda and grab opportunities of those living here,” he says in a deadpan manner.
Chaubey, 32, is suave, his Marathi and English are as smooth as his Hindi. “I give my speeches in Marathi,” he says.
Chaubey, whose proximity to the party chief can be measured by the fact that Thackeray chose to kick off the campaign from a public meeting in his constituency, defends the MNS’ agitation against north Indians and Thackeray’s failure to criticise the violence.
“That’s because it’s just human behaviour, which tends to be violent if the person is suppressed. Locals were feeling stifled due to their opportunities being snatched by outsiders and hence, reacted to it that way,” he said.
Chaubey says that he plans to reach out to the north Indian voters and convince them that the party isn’t really against the migrants. “We won’t disallow anyone. We will just scrutinise their reasons for coming here,” he says.?