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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Bhujbal back in Shiv Sena? Uddhav’s reply adds to speculation

Bhujbal started his political career with Sena, but broke off following his differences with late Sena chief Bal Thackeray. He joined Congress in 1991 and later shifted to NCP after Pawar quit in 1999.

mumbai Updated: Aug 22, 2019 07:00 IST
Faisal Malik & Swapnil Rawal
Faisal Malik & Swapnil Rawal
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Chhagan Bhujbal is reportedly in touch with Shiv Sena leaders amid speculations that he would soon return to the party he quit in 1991.
Chhagan Bhujbal is reportedly in touch with Shiv Sena leaders amid speculations that he would soon return to the party he quit in 1991. (Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times)
         

Former deputy chief minister (CM) and senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal is reportedly in touch with Shiv Sena leaders amid speculations that he would soon return to the party he quit in 1991. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s cryptic answer to journalists’ questions over Bhujbal has further fuelled the speculations, though the leader’s nephew, Sameer, denied such a possibility.

If Bhujbal indeed quits the NCP to return to the Sena, it would be a major jolt to the Sharad Pawar-led party. “Answers to all this will come at an appropriate time,” Thackeray said in response to queries over Bhujbal’s return to the party at his Bandra residence on Wednesday.

Talks of Bhujbal and his legislator son, Pankaj, joining the Sena, ahead of the Assembly elections — due in October — have been doing the rounds for some time now. Bhujbal started his political career with the Sena, but broke off following his differences with the late Sena chief Bal Thackeray. He joined Congress in 1991 and later shifted to the NCP after Pawar quit in 1999.

Bhujbal has been facing money-laundering charges and was arrested in March 2016 under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. After spending two years in jail along with his nephew Sameer, he got bail in May 2018 on health grounds.

However, NCP insiders said Bhujbal may not leave NCP, but Pankaj may join the Sena. “Bhujbal told a few senior leaders in the party that his son is not listening to him. This has put him in a helpless situation,” said a senior NCP leader.

Bhujbal represents the Yevla Assembly constituency, while Pankaj is an MLA from Nandgaon Assembly constituency. Both seats are with the Sena in the seat-sharing agreement with its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Another NCP leader said party leaders are trying to convince Bhujbal how Pawar, his political mentor, chose him over others when they were in the Congress and later, in the NCP. “It was Pawar who managed to get him elected in the legislative council over former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh after both of them lost the Assembly polls in 1995. Pawar ensured Bhujbal was appointed as leader of Opposition. He then appointed him as state president of NCP, home minister and twice the deputy CM,” said the NCP leader.

Sameer, however, said all speculations are rumours. “He (Bhujbal) is not going anywhere as he is not leaving NCP,” Sameer said.

Sena insiders, however, said Bhujbal has been in touch with Sena leadership for some time now, but no decision has been taken yet. Interestingly, Thackeray had in July assured party workers from Nashik district, from where Bhujbal hails, that they are not inducting him. Bhujbal, too, has denied the speculation in the past.

Uddhav Thackeray and Bhujbal share cordial relations and the latter has kept in touch with the former for the past few years. Pankaj even called on Thackeray after Bhujbal was released from jail last year. However, there is a division within the Sena top ranks over Bhujbal’s induction. Several senior leaders, including Subhash Desai, Sanjay Raut and Diwakar Raote, are against Bhujbal’s re-entry. Some section of Sena functionaries also feel the sentiments of common Shiv Sainiks will be “hurt” if Bhujbal comes back as he was in charge of the state home department when the Congress-NCP government had arrested Bal Thackeray in connection with Mumbai riots of 1991-92. He was later acquitted.

First Published: Aug 22, 2019 00:05 IST

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