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'MNS is not against any community'

Last updated on: February 22, 2012 17:40 IST

'MNS is not against any community'

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Interview: Syed Firdaus Ashraf and Prasanna Zore

Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has been in the news for its aggressive stance against 'outsiders,' who the MNS says, deny employment opportunities to Maharashtrians.

"We are not opposed to other communities, this is a wrong perception about us," MNS leader Nitin Sardesai insists in an exclusive interview with Rediff.com

In last week's elections to the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation or BMC -- the richest civic body in the country with an annual budget running into billions of rupees and larger than many Indian states -– the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena surprised everyone with its strong showing in only its second civic election, winning 28 seats and coming second in more than 50.

The biggest MNS upset was when it won all seven civic seats in the Mahim-Dadar belt in north-central Mumbai, considered the Shiv Sena's impregnable bastion and the city's Maharashtrian heartland.

Six years ago, when Raj Thackeray broke off from his uncle Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena in protest against the importance given to his cousin Uddhav Thackeray and formed the MNS, not many thought he could take on the Sena's might, but the current round of civic elections across Maharashtra has shown that the MNS is here to stay.

The man behind the MNS's strong showing in Mahim-Dadar is its legislator Nitin Sardesai, who had done the unthinkable in the 2009 state assembly election too by defeating the Shiv Sena in Mahim-Dadar.

Interestingly, unlike MNS chief Raj Thackeray's other close associates, Sardesai was not in politics, but a businessman before he took the plunge.

The MNS's blow was the dark cloud that dimmed the Shiv Sena's silver lining of ruling the BMC for the fourth time in a row. No wonder Bal Thackeray summoned former Maharashtra chief minister Manohar Joshi, the Shiv Sena's tallest leader in the Mahim-Dadar area, to seek an explanation for the rout.

The MNS has been in the news for its aggressive stance against 'outsiders,' who it says, deny employment to Maharashtrians. "We are not opposed to other communities, this is a wrong perception about us," Sardesai tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf and Prasanna D Zore in an exclusive interview.

What was your first reaction when you heard that the MNS had won all seven municipal wards from the Dadar-Mahim area, which was always a Shiv Sena bastion?

Obviously, I was very happy. This had never happened earlier.

Were you confident before the election that your party would win all the seven seats?

I was confident of six seats, but was not very sure about the seventh. I knew it would be a close call, but even if we get defeated our margin would be very narrow, I felt. But we won by a few hundred votes in ward 182 (Mahim), 207 votes to be exact.

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Image: MNS leader Nitin Sardesai
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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'Shiv Sena left Marathi manoos and took up Hindutva'

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What was the brief Raj Thackeray gave you?

The brief was, we have to win the elections.

Is it true that you told all your candidates to be dressed in black trousers and white shirt during campaigning?

It is not 100 percent true. Generally, how you present yourself in front of others is very important. I feel this is the thing that every human being should improve upon.

In my opinion, a person should always be presentable and that is what I told all my candidates too.

Can we say that you didn't want them to dress like typical netas, in khadi kurta and pyjamas, in order to appeal more to the voters?

I cannot say that because most politicians dress like netas and they still win. So there cannot be a thumb rule as such.

Generally, the MNS's image is very young and different and I feel if all these years you have been wearing shirts and trousers, you should not change your attire just during elections.

A sudden change is not acceptable to anyone. So, I told them to be more presentable when they went to the people (for campaigning).

Gujaratis, Marwaris, even Muslims to a certain extent, have been loyal MNS voters. Your party is known to take an aggressive pro-Marathi stance, so how did you reach out to these communities?

Though we are with all Maharashtrians and we insist that as this is Maharashtra, the culture and local language have to be respected, but still, we are not opposed to other communities. This is a wrong perception about us. A part of the media has projected us this way.

I have excellent relations with Gujaratis. I have Gujarati friends, Muslim friends and the same is the case with Rajsaheb (Raj Thackeray). It is now that the people have understood this.

The MNS is not against any community or any language as such. Over a period of time the people have understood this and therefore they have voted for us.

We are talking of the development of the state and the city. And people who want development, vote for us.

Do you feel that because of its pro-Hindutva stance, the Shiv Sena lost sight of the Marathi manoos issue?

I think many times they mixed up this issue. They left the Marathi manoos and took up Hindutva. Therefore, people know that as and when they (the Shiv Sena) feel it's convenient, they take up issues only during elections.

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Image: Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray


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'People support Raj Thackeray because he talks of today's problems'

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What about organisations like the Lok Adhikar Samiti that the Shiv Sena started to procure jobs for Marathi youth?

Today, at least 500,000 to 1,000,000 Maharashtrians hold jobs in banks and other sectors because of them.

What is the MNS's stand on this?

We have the Janadhikar Samiti which my colleague Shirish Parkar is heading. No doubt, the Lok Ahdikar Samiti was good once upon a time, but we are talking of today. I don't think they are that good today.

People are supporting Raj Thackeray because he is talking of today's problems. We don't have to talk about the past, we have to talk about the present and the future which Rajsaheb is doing.

Why do you think the MNS failed in the Sewree-Mazgaon area (in south Mumbai) where you lost all the wards?

I can't comment about any other area because I don't know what went wrong over there. If you see here (in Mahim-Dadar), in the corporation elections of 2007 we got reasonable votes.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections too, we got maximum votes from this constituency and in the assembly elections of 2009 I was elected MLA. So, our votes started increasing gradually.

In 52 BMC wards your party stood second, have you done any introspection as to what went wrong? Why couldn't you win?

There are quite a few seats that we lost by a small margin. We are in the process of evaluating where we went wrong. We will go to all these places and find out the reason.

What was your expectation when the civic polls were announced? Did you believe you would get 28, 30 seats at least?

Certainly, we expected to do better than that. But as you said, in 52 places, we stood second, so maybe we could have won half of that. I still feel that overall, we got more votes this time than in the last elections.

Were you surprised by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party's victory in the BMC election? Many political analysts had written the Sena-BJP off.

If we had got a few more seats, then things would have been different. If we would have won 10 more seats, then we would be having this discussion on a different footing.

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Image: MNS founder Raj Thackeray


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'MNS is only six years old, we need more time'

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The Shiv Sena daily newspaper Saamna says the MNS's votes have fallen by 135,000 compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Is it true?

No, that is wrong. It is not the correct figure. I can give you the correct figure.

Can you share your journey from being a student of the Dayanand school in Malad (north-west Mumbai) to Shivaji Park (north-central Mumbai, the heartland of Marathi culture in the city) and to meeting Raj Thackeray?

I was born in the Shivaji Park area. For a few years I shifted to Malad, then my family returned to Shivaji Park. I always had a house in the area.

Raj Thackeray and I had a few common friends. Our friendship goes back a long way. I have known him since he was in student politics. I never thought at that time that I would be in politics because I was from a business background.

But today, whatever he does, he wanted me, therefore I am in politics.

When Raj Thackeray split with the Shiv Sena, where were you?

I was not with any political party before the MNS was formed. When he formed the MNS, I joined it.

The MNS does not have strong leaders besides Raj Thackeray. Whereas when the Shiv Sena was expanding its base, it had leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal and Manohar Joshi. Don't you think this kind of second-rung leadership is missing from your party?

No, it is not true. We have Bala Nandgaonkar, Shishir Shinde, Praveen Darekar in the cooperative sector. Shinde is an ex-member of the legislative council; now he is an MLA. Nandgaonkar is in his fifth term as legislator and there is Vasant Gite from Nashik.

Our party is only six years old, so I think we need some more time.

MNS corporators earlier did not attend corporation meetings and had a bad reputation. What did your party do about it?

You must have been aware that we gave exams to all the people who wanted to contest elections on our ticket. We have published a syllabus that gives all the information about the BMC's functioning.

We want our corporators to know their job and therefore we have published those guidelines.

The last time we were elected for the first time, so we were inexperienced. This time we have become more seasoned. They (MNS corporators) know their job well now. They also know what the people expect from them.

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Image: MNS workers celebrate the party's strong showing in the Mumbai civic election


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'First preference should be given to the local people'

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You stated earlier that other communities also voted for the MNS. Can you specify what is your stance on North Indians, because your party is perceived to be anti-North Indian?

Any North Indian coming to Mumbai and staying here, paying all the taxes etc, we have no problem. He has to respect our language and our culture. We have no problem with anyone.

But suppose somebody comes from anywhere to Mumbai city and stays on the footpath. He steals water from pipelines and steals electricity, he is not responsible towards this city, he does not pay his taxes, then he is not welcome. We have a problem with such people.

What about jobs? There are many aspirants for jobs.

That is again a part of it, obviously.

So any North Indian can come to Mumbai and take up a job?

If he is doing it legitimately, then it is fine. But again, he has to respect the culture of Maharashtra and the language of this state.

Can he compete against Maharashtrians for jobs?

That's okay, but preference has to be given to sons of the soil in jobs. I am making this very clear. That is the law also. What we are asking is just follow the law.

A lot of businessmen complain that there is no cheap labour available in Mumbai as the MNS has driven all of them out of the city. As a businessman, do you share this view?

Do you know that there is something called the Minimum Wages Act? If the companies are not following the law, then who is right? Are they right or we are right? They should follow the rules.

The point is, cheap labour is not available in Mumbai today.

It is not my mistake. There is something called minimum wages and you have to pay that. They must pay more rather than blame the MNS.

Let's say there are 10 jobs available in a Mumbai company. Should all the 10 jobs go to Maharashtrians or should some also go to people from other states?

First preference should be given to the local people, very clear.

So out of 10 jobs, how many should go to Maharashtrians?

What does the law say? 80 percent at least. They should follow the law, simple.

Do you think this rule applies in Tamil Nadu for Tamilians, or for Kannadigas in Karnataka?

This is what other states follow, which we don't follow here (in Maharashtra). I am not asking what is not in the law books. It is already there in the law books, but the government has not been doing anything about it.

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Image: A video of MNS MLA Nitin Sardesai
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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'There are enough jobs in Maharashtra and Mumbai'

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For the last six years, the MNS is fighting on this single point, pro-Marathi, agenda. Has there been any improvement on the ground because of this, you think?

I think, yes.

Do you have figures to support your claim?

I don't have the figures, but there is awareness among a lot of businessmen about this issue, that the rules should be followed because someone is watching them all the time.

You are talking about jobs to locals, and a similar debate is happening in America over outsourcing, where they say Indians are taking jobs away from Americans and this should end.

So tomorrow if the United States decides to shut down outsourcing to protect local jobs, what will Indians do?

In USA the they don't have that kind of expertise available and therefore they are outsourcing to India, whereas in Maharashtra we have all kinds of expertise. We should think about the local people.

What is your party doing to create jobs for Maharashtrians?

Jobs are there, but it is only that we are not getting it. There are enough jobs in Maharashtra and Mumbai.

Let me give you the example of a Maharashtrian hotelier from the Dadar area.

He told me that he had advertised in 56 Marathi newspapers for waiters, dishwashers etc, but not a single Maharashtrian applied for it.

So now he has appointed North Indian waiters in his restaurant that serves Maharashtrian cuisine. What do you say about this?

I disagree with you. There are Maharashtrians who are ready to work and ready to do any kind of job.

Just as Tamil Nadu has the Dravidian parties and West Bengal has the Trinamool Congress, do you think the MNS has it in it to emerge as a strong regional party?

I think so. We had seven corporators in 2007 and today we have 28 in Mumbai.

In Pune, we had eight corporators and today we have 29.

In Nashik we had 12 in 2007, today we have 40. These are the figures and they show that we are doing extremely well.

Raj Thackeray had claimed before the Mumbai municipal election that he would emerge as the kingmaker after the results were out, but that did not happen.

It is a process. If not this time, the next time for sure.

I think we have done a good job.


Image: The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation is the richest civic body in the country


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