Devendra Fadnavis, Raj Thackeray meet in Mumbai amid tie-up speculation
Raj Thackeray, who was seen as PM Modi’s bitter critic, met former chief minister Fadnavis at Parel on Tuesday in south-central Mumbai in a meeting that lasted just over an hour.Updated: Jan 07, 2020 22:18 IST
A day after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) indicated it will reinvent itself with a new identity and a new ideology by leaning right, its founder Raj Thackeray met BJP’s leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday, giving rise to talk of a possible tie-up between the two parties. The BJP had lost its long-time ally Shiv Sena soon after the October 2019 state elections, following which the latter brokered a three-party alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress to form a government in Maharashtra.
Thackeray, who had become a bitter critic of the BJP prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, had held several rallies in the state criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government on issues such as the economy, foreign and domestic policies, and welfare schemes for farmers. He had also been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with transactions related to the purchase of Kohinoor Mills land at Dadar in central Mumbai.
On Tuesday, however, he met former chief minister Fadnavis at Parel in south-central Mumbai in a meeting that lasted just over an hour. The meeting was facilitated by Thackeray’s friend Guruprasad Rege, who is said to be close to Fadnavis. After the Assembly elections, Thackeray had a few meetings with BJP leader Ashish Shelar, who may have influenced his decision.
A senior MNS leader on condition of anonymity told HT, “A section of our party wants him (Thackeray) to tie up with the BJP considering that the Sena has now allied with its bitter rivals, the NCP and the Congress. Political calculations have changed after the formation of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. We (MNS and BJP) need each other.” He added that BJP will provide the financial muscle to run the tie-up while MNS will help the BJP in countering the MVA on several fronts.
Political analysts in Maharashtra feel that the BJP needs a quick replacement to the Shiv Sena, and MNS, though much weaker than the Sena, can provide it. “BJP is currently isolated as it is pitted against the entire opposition,” said Hemant Desai. “Here the MNS can really help them.” He added a caveat, though. “This move may dent Raj Thackeray’s image. Until now, he was firing his guns against the BJP. Such a tie-up could be suicidal,” Desai said.
To be sure, MNS has lost political ground over the years. The party had 13 MLAs in the 2009-2014 Maharashtra Assembly, but won only one Assembly seat each in 2014 and 2019. The announcement about the new identity is likely to come on January 23 – the birth anniversary of Shiv Sena founder and MNS chief’s mentor Bal Thackeray. At the same meeting, he is likely to unveil the party’s new identity – a saffron flag featuring Maratha king Shivaji’s seal. The current MNS flag has three colours – saffron, green and blue, respectively representing Hindutva, Islam and Dalits. The image of the old flag has been removed from the party’s official Twitter handle, @mnsadhikrut.
Thackeray aides say the MNS chief was mulling the change as his “Marathi Manoos” agenda was no longer paying dividend. According to Mumbai University professor of political science Surendra Jondhale, it is time Raj Thackeray reviewed his party’s ideology. “The Marathi Manoos issue is no longer relevant. MNS needs a complete revamp, it needs new thinking. If he adopts the Hindutva ideology, the MNS will become a dwarf organisation hanging on to the BJP. He needs to become creative and focus on issues such as unemployment to emerge as an alternative.”