MNS chief returns to his ‘home pitch’ for debut Gudi Padwa rally and takes on his one-time favourite, Modi and BJP
Seven years after he electrified the city promising change in his speech at Shivaji Park, Raj Thackeray returned there for his debut Gudi Padwa rally in the hopes of reviving his now beleaguered party. But while the MNS chief’s speech disappointingly lacked any new ideas, he certainly picked out a new enemy – his one-time favourite Narendra Modi. Thackeray invoked the ghost of his uncle and mentor Bal Thackeray, and recounted all that he had done for the Marathi manoos.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray at Shivaji Park. Pic/Rane Ashish
He began his speech addressing the recent controversy over the noise restrictions for the rally. “I am speaking after a long time on my home pitch, so I will start playing now. I asked the government to let me hold a rally on Gudi Padwa. Everyone gave permission, then someone went to court, and I was told noise shouldn’t be above 50 decibels. Outside the park, the traffic noise is above 100 decibels.”
It didn’t take long for him to take a dig at long-time rival, Shiv Sena. He pointed out that the Sena had suddenly become more active after he announced his Padwa rally. “The moment the announcement was made for the Padwa rally, many other parties realised that there are days to be celebrated in Maharashtra and Shiv Sena started up putting flags too. So the rally is ours, and they are putting up their flags. This is what happens when people lack self-confidence,” he said.
But he said he didn’t mind seeing the Sena’s saffron flags beside MNS flags. “When I see the Sena flag around my rally, I consider it a blessing from Balasaheb — he is telling me ‘I am with you’.”
On MNS’ impact
“They say MNS leaves its campaigns, I say, name one that we left in the middle. It’s because of our efforts that Marathi name plates are seen outside every shop now, and Marathi has been included as a language by mobile operators. It’s because of us that railway examinations are being conducted in the local language. Had we not taken up the toll issue, 65 toll nakas would not have shut down. When I could do that without being in power, I can shut them all, just give me power.”
Instead, he attempted to turn the table on his detractors and attacked the Sena and BJP for leaving their campaigns midway. “What happened to Ram Mandir? What happened to the Jaitapur nuclear plant, taken up by Sena? They are in power and still keep complaining they have no importance. If you have no value, then leave the government.”
He also took a potshot at the ruling alliance’s stand against Pakistan, particularly Prime Minister Modi’s brand of Indo-Pak relations. “If you oppose Pakistan then why is Samjhauta Express still alive? Modi visits the Pakistan PM on his birthday, and then comes back and abuses the same.”
MNS chief Raj Thackeray thanks supporters at the rally. Pic/Rane Ashish
Thackeray also admitted that he was once full of praise for Modi, and explained why he was speaking against him now. “When people ask me why I was speaking good about Modi earlier and now am bad-mouthing him, I point out media is doing the same. I did visit Gujarat and had then said that the kind of development he did in Gujarat is good, but still Maharashtra is number one. It was I who had first said that Modi is made for the PM’s post, when his own party men weren’t in his favour.”
“But after becoming PM, you (Modi) have changed. You are doing the same thing that Congress was doing, so what’s the difference between you and them? So many foreign visits -- what happened to bringing acche din in 100 days? The jewellers association came to me protesting against the Modi government imposing excise duty on them. He (Modi) had opposed the same thing when Congress had proposed it. After meeting me, they went out and said, ‘Ek hi bhool, kamal ka phool’.”
Bharat Mata row
Thackeray also weighed in on the Bharat Mata row and said it was a non-issue being propagated by the RSS. “Now the issue of Bharat Mata ki Jai is being brought up, but let me ask you, before this, when was the last time you said it? We don’t use it in our daily life. To bring up this issue, they have used the Owaisi brothers who are financed by them.” At the same time, the firebrand politician also made it clear what his personal stand on the matter was: “He (AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi) said he won’t say Bharat Mata ki Jai even if a knife is put to his throat. Come to Maharashtra, I will show you.”
A huge crowd turned out for the rally. Pic/Ajinkya Sawant
He then took a swipe at CM Devendra Fadnavis who said those who don’t chant the slogan don’t deserve to live in India. “Before saying all this, do something for the state and country, and we will all proudly say Bharat Mata ki Jai.”
He further added, “Why aren’t Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh residing in Mumbai being thrown out? Who are the true anti-nationals? The corrupt who gave away river water to private companies, because of whom Maharashtra is facing drought today, they are the real anti-nationals.”
Thackeray said the Marathwada statehood row is a planned strategy but it’s not to be taken as a joke. “They say Vidarbha has faced injustice, it gave rise to three CMs and even the present CM is from there. So when all these people didn’t do anything for Vidarbha, how can you blame Maharashtra? Shivaji is from Pune and Jijamata is from Buldhana in Vidarbha. How can you separate son and mother? After Vidarbha, they are demanding separate Marathwada. If CM and ministers should vacate chairs of they can’t develop that area. If RSS wants division then divide Gujarat; but there they can do nothing.”
“Places where there’s no water, only to please ministers sugar factories are constructed, sugarcane is being harvested, and beer factories are coming up. Farmers aren't getting water, but ministers’ fields are getting water in abundance. Farmers were dying before and they are dying now.”
Thackeray also explained the diversity symbolised in the ‘rainbow’ colours of the MNS flag: “Some students asked me what is my opinion on Hindutva. I told them I am a Hindu, and in my flag, the saffron is for Hinduism, blue for Dalits and the green is for APJ Abdul Kalam and AR Rahman, not for the residents of Behrampada, Bhiwandi and Bhendi Bazaar.” On his anti-outsider policy, he claimed he wanted people to burn new auto rickshaws belonging to non-Maharastrians so that the corruption behind the grant of licences comes to the fore. He also targeted the Gujarati community and said Gujaratis in Mumbai had helped their native state after the Bhuj earthquake but didn't help Maharashtra after the during Latur quake.