Even as speculations are rife over former state minister Ganesh Naik quitting the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and joining either the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his arch rival, Belapur MLA Manda Mhatre, said he would be welcomed with open arms into the BJP fold.
Known for targeting Naik at every possible opportunity, Mhatre said, “If he decides to join the BJP, I will welcome him with an arti plate.”
She, however, did take potshots at Naik.
Mhatre said, “Earlier, I was the one who brought him to the NCP after he quit Shiv Sena. It was the biggest mistake of my life, as he later betrayed me. He can again follow me into the BJP. I have no worries now, as people have seen my work for the past 15 years. When someone’s existence is at stake, he takes someone’s support and seeks TRP to be in the limelight. Some leaders cannot stay away from power, just like the fish can’t survive without water. We do have capable leadership here and so I don’t think the party will take him. If it does, I will welcome him with an arti plate as we want to strengthen our party.”
She added that Naik tried to join the BJP two years ago, but his efforts were stalled by his own party leaders.
With Mhatre welcoming her arch rival into the party fold, political observers said it was clear that either the BJP leaders have given a green signal for Naik’s entry or the talks are in advanced stage.
Naik, who had a stranglehold over Navi Mumbai politics for years, suffered a shocking defeat in the last assembly elections. It was Mhatre, who quit the NCP and joined the BJP just before the elections, who had defeated him. Earlier, Naik’s son former MP Sanjeev Naik too lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Thane.
During the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) poll in April 2015, Naik failed to get a majority for his party and had to rely on the Independents and the Congress — with whom he had been at loggerheads — to stake claim to the civic body.
There were reports prior to the NMMC election that Naik was all set to join the BJP. However, alleged opposition from Shiv Sena and intervention by NCP chief Sharad Pawar stalled his plan.
Keeping options open
Reports have emerged that Naik has met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray a few times in the last two months . Naik had quit Sena after differences with late Bal Thackeray in the late 90s. Sources, however, claimed that there is a strong opposition to him joining the party from Thane guardian minister Eknath Shinde.
Meanwhile, news about Naik’s possible entry in the BJP gained momentum after NMMC commissioner Tukaram Mundhe was transferred abruptly last month. The two had been at loggerheads during Mundhe’s tenure.
While Naik was unavailable for comment, he has earlier denied plans to quit the NCP, stating he will not abandon the ship in troubled times.