While the BJP has made overtures to the rival Raj Thackeray led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Shiv Sena, which is peeved at the initiative, is questioning why the BJP is trying to woo Raj when there is a "wave" in favour of its prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi.
In an interview with dna's Dhaval Kulkarni, Sena Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut, who is also the executive editor of the party organ Saamna, vehemently opposes the inclusion of the MNS in the five-party 'Mahayuti' (grand alliance) and also points out that the NDA will not be able to rope in NCP chief and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar as the opposition has been consistently training its guns on him. Former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari had found himself in the Sena's crosshairs after reaching out to Raj and for his statements about allowing Pawar in the NDA.
Q: What are the campaign issues for the opposition?
A: The Congress and NCP have been ruling Maharashtra for the last 15 years and at the Centre for 10 years. They have ruined the dignity of the country and destroyed the state. Corruption will be an issue as scandals have continued to tumble out even on the very day the elections were announced! The government is inducing people to beg by giving them food almost free. On the other hand, Modi says he doesnt want to transform people into beggars but give them work. In Maharashtra, power has been the hand-maiden of the few. Decisions have been taken to ensure the welfare of feudal lords, sugar barons and education barons only.
Q: The previous elections saw the Sena- BJP's tally slip largely due to vote division. Will these polls be different?
A: The threat of vote splits always exists. This time, the Lok Sabha elections will see votes being cast for the country and not for a party. The Shiv Sena is committed to the issue of Marathi and the struggle of the sons of the soil and will also support Modi to ensure that the betterment of the country.
Q: The Sena's biggest problem is the absence of its chief, late Bal Thackeray. Will it affect its electoral fortunes?
A: In the two previous polls, Balasaheb was away from campaigning, which was shouldered by Uddhav Thackeray. Uddhavji and all Sena leaders will take the responsibility of campaigning with use of all possible means like electronic, print and social media, rallies and road shows.
Q: Some BJP leaders kicked off a storm by making overtures to Raj Thackeray...
A: People want to see their own convenience. The Shiv Sena- BJP alliance is almost 25 years old, making it one of the oldest one and the people look at it with respect. Though a drift is possible among workers, Uddhav Thackeray has full control over his activists. In 2009, even though the MNS contested against us, the Shiv Sena could get 11 MPs elected, while the BJP got nine seats. Now, the conditions are different, the wind is blowing in the Shiv Sena and BJP's favour and this will stay so. There is a wave in favour of Narendra Modi and hence there is no need for us to look back. This Modi wave will ensure that we get 40 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra. The five Pandavas namely, the Shiv Sena, BJP, RPI (Athavale), Swabhimaani Paksha and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) are enough too trounce the Congress- NCP.
Q: What about statements by senior BJP leaders about accomodating NCP chief and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar in the NDA?
A: Even (senior BJP leader and Gadkari's rival) Gopinath Munde has objected to this. During the campaign, our guns will be trained on Pawar. The farmers have paid the price for Pawar's rule in the state and Centre. We will be targeting Pawar in the campaigning, then how can we lay out the red carpet for him to join the NDA? This is the stance put forward by Munde and Uddhav Thackeray.
Q: Sena leaders like Mohan Rawle have quit the party and leveled allegations at the leadership. Will this drift affect the party electorally?
A: Even during the Sena supremo's time, people had split the party, but this had no impact on it. (Incumbent PWD minister) Chhagan Bhujbal (who quit the Sena in 1991) was defeated in the (1995) elections. In a party everything may not happen as per ones desire. However, common activists have been elevated to the assembly or Lok Sabha and hence will never forget the party's debt.