Is the NCP wooing Raj Thackeray?

Updated: Dec 06, 2018, 19:52 IST | Sanjeev Shivadekar

Organisers of the MNS boss Raj Thackeray's meeting, where he cleared the air about his comments against North Indians, turn out to be Sharad Pawar's men

Is the NCP wooing Raj Thackeray?
(From right) NCP leaders Arun Mishra and his father, Shreekant Mishra, welcome MNS chief Raj Thackeray (extreme left) at an event for the city's North Indian community on Sunday. Pic/Satej Shinde

This isn't the first time there have been whispers about the NCP wooing MNS. Word has it that though NCP's existing ally, Congress, was worried about the backlash from Hindi-speaking states due to MNS chief Raj Thackeray's past remarks against North Indian migrants. Perhaps that's why the Sharad Pawar party organised an event for North Indians in Kandivli on Sunday, to help Thackeray extend an olive branch to the community.

The event, held at Bhura Bhai hall in Kandivli, marked a rare instance where Raj Thackeray spoke in Hindi. Speaking to North Indians invited there by the NGO, Uttar Bhartiya Maha Panchayat, Thackeray clarified that he had no hate for North Indians and merely wanted priority for Maharashtrians in job opportunities. In the past, Thackeray and his party, the MNS, were notorious for their hostility towards North Indians migrants in Mumbai, causing many to flee the city after violent attacks on them in 2008.

Interestingly, one of the key organisers of the event was Arun Mishra, district president of the NCP's North Mumbai youth wing. His father Shreekant Mishra, vice-president of NCP Mumbai, also attended the event, and the father-son duo were seen sharing the stage with Thackeray.

Arun Mishra, NCP youth leader, was one of the key organisers
Arun Mishra, NCP youth leader, was one of the key organisers

Tongues wagging
This has added fuel to speculation that NCP wants MNS to be part of its grand alliance to fight BJP-Sena. There were similar rumours a couple of months ago, but the Congress reportedly did not want Thackeray's anti-North Indian image to hit their vote bank. When asked why he invited Thackeray, Arun Mishra said that members of the NGO feared violent reaction in Mumbai to reports of an attack on migrant workers in Gujarat. "To ensure no untoward incident takes place, we decided to meet Raj Thackeray. It is during the meeting that we proposed hosting an event where he could clear misunderstandings that migrants may have about the MNS. Thackeray accepted the invite and attended the event," said the NCP youth leader. However, he claimed that NCP did not request or instruct to organise the meet.

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Expert speak
Prakash Joshi, veteran political journalist, said "In view of the 2019 general elections, a lot of repositioning of political parties is taking place at the national as well as state level. Thackeray's meeting to clarify his party's stand on the migrant issue is also part of this process." This is not the first time that eyebrows have been raised over the NCP's proximity to Thackeray. In October, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Thackeray were seated next to each other on a flight from Aurangabad to Mumbai, sending tongues wagging. Earlier this year, Thackeray also conducted a public interview of Pawar in Pune. Echoing Joshi's view, another political journalist stated, "If arch rivals like Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and Mayawati (BSP) can keep their differences aside to defeat BJP, then why can't Thackeray tag along with other political parties or vice versa?" He added, "Also, NCP can use its proximity to MNS as tool to get a larger cut of the pie during seat talks with Congress."

Raj Thackeray drinks in the warm welcome extended to him by NCP youth leader Arun Mishra and his father Shreekant Msihra, vice-president of NCP Mumbai. Pic/Satej Shinde
Raj Thackeray drinks in the warm welcome extended to him by NCP youth leader Arun Mishra and his father Shreekant Msihra, vice-president of NCP Mumbai. Pic/Satej Shinde

MNS denies alliance
Like the NCP and Congress, Thackeray, too, has been critical of the ruling alliance of BJP and Shiv Sena in the state. He has also taken potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi through his public speeches and sketches. However both the MNS and NCP denied any political agenda behind Sunday's event. Sachin Ahir, president of NCP Mumbai, said, "It was Raj who had praised Gujarat, BJP and Narendra Modi. However, after a long time he seems to have realised that his assessment was wrong. Now, he has started taking on the BJP. We have been against BJP from day one. The only common point between MNS and NCP is that both of us are anti-BJP. But, there are huge political and ideological differences. There is no question of an alliance." A senior MNS functionary added, "One should not read too much into Sunday's event. For MNS, it was merely a stage to make their stand clear on the North Indian community."

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