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Raj VS Ajit, and the state

Ravikiran DeshmukhAddressing a rally at Kolhapur, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, who is currently on a statewide tour, pooh-poohed the idea of joining hands with Shiv Sena. He also made his intentions clear of going on his tod in state politics. Even as such sermons are not for serious consumption since nothing is sacrosanct in statecraft and marriages of convenience are aplenty, the statement, if taken seriously, closes doors for any further talks with Shiv Sena, offers some relief to Congress, and raises concerns in the BJP camp.

Today, the political scenario in the state is such that no political party can dare ignore Raj Thackeray and his MNS. He has proved himself a crowd-puller and an aggressive orator. MNS, a relatively new political outfit, has nothing to lose at this juncture. And, Raj is taking full advantage of the present political situation, which is full of chaos – allies Congress and NCP are becoming increasingly alienated, coalition partners Shiv Sena and BJP too do not enjoy each other’s company and almost all these outfits are keen to join hands with him.

So, Raj’s decision to not align with Shiv Sena offers more relief to Congress, as until now he has spared Prithviraj Chavan and not taken him to task for the overall performance of the government. Congressmen such as union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and state industries minister Narayan Rane have been exceptions and barbs at them have been based on their personal performances rather than of Congress-led governments at the centre and the state.

The grand old party must be more than happy, as Raj has gone full throttle against NCP in general and Ajit Pawar in particular for his ambition to run the state single-handedly. Since last two years, Ajit Pawar has been working overtime with an eye on the post of the CM, the fact that Congress is not ready take easily. Another important development is Raj launching a tirade against BJP, the party he was considered close to. His equations with Gujarat CM Narendra Modi have been excellent.

Addressing a rally at Jalna on Saturday, Raj criticised a few BJP heavyweights such as Rajya Sabha member Ajay Sancheti, whose family has been in the business of construction of roads and bridges since decades. The Sanchetis have been closely associated with RSS for generations. The MNS chief also named another bigwig from the construction industry, BJP MLC Mitesh Bhangdia.

Off late, Ajit Pawar has been trying hard to defend himself from the onslaught. He is the only NCP leader who is trying to take on Raj directly as his party colleagues home minister RR Patil counterattack despite being at the receiving end of some biting remarks from Raj. NCP chief Sharad Pawar too has avoided reacting on the situation, saying he pays no attention to childish diatribes.

No senior leader from the ruling Democratic Front coming forward to defend Ajit Pawar raises suspicions. It’s as if elders from both Congress and NCP have decided to let Ajit face the music, which may ultimately eliminate him from the race for the post of chief minister. Over and above, this is the second episode of confrontation between Raj and Ajit. The first part of the row was witnessed approximately two years ago when Raj attacked him over corruption. When Ajit challenged him to come up with proofs, Raj said MNS had sufficient material and that would be handed over to Anna Hazare. But questions were asked why he couldn’t give it to his MLAs to raise the matter in the state assembly. Later, the matter got buried under public amnesia.

The second chapter unfolded in the backdrop of the by-election at Khadakwasla (dist Pune) assembly seat necessitated by the untimely death of MNS MLA Ramesh Wanjle. Here, NCP outsmarted Raj’s party by getting late Wanjle’s wife to contest on its ticket. Piqued, Raj did not field a candidate and NCP was defeated by BJP. The MNS chief has more reasons for disgruntlement as NCP recently managed to wean away his party legislator Harshavardhan Jadhav. Since then Jadhav has been highly critical of Raj and MNS.

An interesting twist to the ongoing tiff is the fact that MNS and NCP are working hand in glove when it comes to running Pune Municipal Corporation. Though MNS is in opposition here, it has always toed the NCP line – whether it was on election to the standing committee or approval of the city development plan. In such a scenario, Sena leaders suspect that the squabble between Raj and Ajit is just a charade to stay in the public gaze. Only time will tell how true this is.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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