Fourteen years ago, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray called Anna Hazare a “crackpot”. Today, Thackeray thinks Hazare is a crusader for justice.
For close to two decades the Sena and Hazare have traded charges. Now, Thackeray has thrown his weight behind the Gandhian from Ralegan Siddhi.
The tense relationship between them dates back to the early 1990s when the Sena benefited from the corruption charges Hazare levelled against the Sharad Pawar-led Congress government.
However, as the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance settled into Mantralaya in 1995, Hazare alleged that its ministers — the Sena’s Shashikant Sutar and Babanrao Gholap, and the BJP’s Mahadevrao Shivankar — were corrupt. The Sena hit back, alleging Hazare had misappropriated Rs 22 crore given by the state to his Hind Swaraj Trust.
A vicious verbal slugfest followed, with Hazare calling Thackeray a “liar and a cheat” and the Sena patriarch responding in kind.
Finally, Thackeray’s now estranged nephew, Raj, was deputed to meet Hazare and calm tempers.
Hazare was subsequently sentenced to a three-month term in a defamation case filed by Gholap. He underwent a day’s sentence, after which then chief minister Manohar Joshi intervened and got the term cancelled.
The tussle ebbed when the Sena was voted out of power.
Now, the Sena has announced a statewide jail bharo agitation from April 12. “Hazare’s agitation has garnered national and international attention. His passion for the cause is good, but we hope it lasts till the goal is achieved,” Thackeray said in the Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, on Thursday.