Ridiculing former BJP president Nitin Gadkari's request to MNS chief Raj Thackeray to stay away from contesting the Lok Sabha polls, the Shiv Sena said the proposal was meant to act as a face-saver for the MNS. The party alleged that Gadkari, who will be caught in a tough contest from Nagpur, did not want any MNS candidate to throw his hat in the ring against him.
An editorial in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna, which is edited by party president Uddhav Thackeray, attacked Raj as having lost his popular base and taunted him for his recent anti-toll agitation. Gadkari claimed he had requested Raj to desist from a contest to prevent a split in anti-Congress votes.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the MNS had contested 12 seats and the vote-split had led to the Shiv Sena- BJP's defeat in nine seats, including five in Mumbai.
However, BJP leaders admitted that while the saffron alliance could enter into clandestine seat adjustments with Raj, an outright alliance was not possible due to the negative impact on BJP's fortunes in the Hindi belt due to Raj's anti-migrant stance. Sena sources also see a pattern in Gadkari's outreach— namely that of putting the Sena on the backfoot and replacing the BJP as the dominant partner in the alliance. The MNS is likely to reveal its cards on its eight foundation day on Sunday.
"Mahashay (Sir) (Raj) was in a Hamletian dilemma of be or not to be as it was sure that like his anti-toll agitation, his politics and his future would also be unsuccessful... and good friend Gadkari relieved him from it," said the editorial, without naming Raj.
"The toll agitation burst the balloon of those who divided votes and wanted to contest polls on their own. Those who spoke about fighting on their own strength in Maharashtra and coming to power... will not fight due to Gadkari's grace. This is a way of getting relief," said the Sena, adding that the BJP leadership had washed its hands of Gadkari's exercise.
"There is no doubt in the minds of the people of Maharashtra that Nitin Gadkari is a consummate businessman," said the editorial, pointing to the interests of Gadkari's Purti group in cooperatives, power, sugar, ethanol, and water purification sectors. "...but he also knows the art of earning profits without investing any capital," it said, adding that Gadkari had kept this proposal before the MNS chief, who is said to have instantly accepted it.
It questioned how Raj had agreed to Gadkari's proposal without any tangible gains and added that "such a profitable transaction would have never happened in politics across the world". The editorial said the Shiv Sena was strongly behind the BJP-led NDA's prime ministerial nominee and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
The Sena alleged that Gadkari, who was caught in a tough contest in Nagpur, where the Aam Aadmi Party had already fielded Anjali Damania, who has accused him of going soft on NCP chief and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar due to their business links, did not want additional trouble from an MNS candidate. The Congress is likely to field incumbent MP Vilas Muttemwar or minister of state Rajendra Mulak from Nagpur in Gadkari's first electoral battle for the Lok Sabha.
"The fight in Nagpur is a tough one and it will be like that till the end. If a strong candidate like Gadkari is afraid of something untoward occurring, then the common man can have questions about whether the Modi wave is real or empty and the leaders who create confusion in regard are completely responsible for this," the editorial said, adding that the Shiv Sena and BJP-led five-party 'Mahayuti' (grand alliance) had decided to get maximum MPs elected from Maharashtra.