“I am expanding my party and it is not my concern if the (Shiv) Sena gets damaged in the process,” said Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Chief Raj Thackeray (41), in an interview with the Hindustan Times as he was campaigning in Pune.
Raj, whose party is contesting its first Assembly polls, said his party would play a crucial role in the formation of the government but he would extend support if his conditions are accepted by those forming the government. Of course, the sons-of-the-soil issue would be priority.
What is your motive in contesting this election? Is it limited to ensuring the Shiv Sena’s defeat?
It is not my concern whether the Shiv Sena wins or loses. I am pointing out to what is happening in Maharashtra.
Where are we when states like Gujarat are surging ahead? Why are we not getting enough power? How long will we keep politicising issues like power cuts, supply of drinking water and irrigation to farms? Why are young people in this state deprived of jobs? Why is it not mandatory that the local youth be given jobs on priority?
These are the issues we are fighting over.
It is a free country, people have the right to go anywhere for employment.
Look, I don’t hate those who come from other states. But why can’t they hold their local politicians responsible for the pathetic situation in their states? What about those useless leaders in their states who have failed to create employment there? It is their failure for which we are suffering here.
Isn’t this election a war between you and your cousin, Sena Executive President Uddhav Thackeray?
No way. I am raising political issues, not personal ones. I am attacking the government for what it did not do and criticising the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party for their failure as opposition parties. I don't talk about him (Uddhav) unless I am instigated. I am busy expanding my party. I can't help it if somebody gets damaged in the process.
You are being accused of splitting the Sena-BJP's votes.
I don't agree. The votes I got did not belong to any particular party. Many among them were youth and women who did not vote earlier. Now they have expectations. It is childish to say that I am splitting votes. They (Sena leaders) like to believe this because they find it hard to accept their defeat.
Have you planned what stand you will take after the polls, especially if there is a fractured mandate?
Nobody can predict the outcome of this election. Everybody is groping in the dark. Our role will be crucial in the formation of the government. Let the results come.
Will you support the Sena-BJP if your help is sought?
On my terms and conditions.
And does that mean you would insist on Nitin Gadkari as chief minister? What if they don't accept it?
Why not? He is qualified for the job and experienced. His track record is good. He has shown the results.
And what about the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party?
Exactly a year ago, they withdrew my security. They put me behind bars. Why should I support them?
In the Lok Sabha elections most parties ignored you. This time, you are a target for each of them. How do you see this?
More than me, it’s the votes that I polled that have attracted their attention. When people were coming for my rallies in large numbers, they said it won’t translate into votes. When I got votes, they were shocked. Now see their manifestos. Marathi is the flavour of the season.
So you think you are the reason why other parties have put the Marathi manoos on their agenda?
No. There is no Marathi agenda. They are eyeing Marathi votes. It never occurred to them that Maharashtrians would come together as a vote bank. Now they have woken up and are wooing the Marathi manoos. Since when did parties like Congress and BJP start worrying about Maharashtrians? They are desperate for Marathi votes while I am following the Marathi agenda.
But your uncle and Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray has accused you of copying the Sena’s agenda.
I am not going to react to what he (Thackeray) says. It does not matter whether he says it on his own or he is made to say so. Ultimately, it is coming from his mouth so I won't react.
Are you in touch with him? When was the last time you spoke with him?
Not in the past couple of months. I am busy with the elections.
Apart from the sons-of-the-soil issue, do you have any agenda? You have not released any manifesto or plans for the state.
Our manifesto is ready and will be released before the day of elections. The MNS gives more importance to getting the basic things done. The government needs to provide basic things first: water, roads and electricity. Development and industry follows.
And how many seats you think your party will win?
I never predict this. We will get a good number of seats. There will be surprises in Mumbai and outside Mumbai.
Would you like to be chief minister if your party is in a position to form the government in future?
I have seen power closely. I am not attracted to the aura of being in power. I don't love travelling in a red beacon car. If I want to be chief minister, I will declare that. But I don't think it is necessary that I should be in that position to get things done. Tomorrow, we can be in power and execute our agenda.