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March 23, 1998


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Thackeray takes back criticism of Manohar Joshi

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on Sunday took back his trenchant criticism of Mahrasthtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi which was levelled in Saturday's edition of the party's newspaper Saamna.

In a further turnaround, Thackeray also announced that Joshi will continue as chief minister of the state, after virtually expressing a loss of faith in him on Saturday.

With this volte face, political observers believe that Joshi has won the first round in the tug of war the two have been indulging in since the party's disastrous performance in the general election from the state.

Thackeray, whose criticism on Saturday of his party's chief minister made observers wonder if Joshi was a Congress CM, said on Sunday: "I have not levelled corruption charges against Manohar Joshi nor has he resigned from his post. He will not only remain the CM for the next two years, but can also rule the state for the next five years after that. But, he must run the administration efficiently."

With this unequivocal statement, the differences between the two, which were brought into the open by Thackeray himself, have been settled, but not before they rocked the state administration to its core.

And this about-turn was effected only after throngs of Shiv Sainiks from all over Bombay congregated at Matoshri, residence of the Thackerays, to express their displeasure at their party chief's decision to take a break from politics.

Thackeray, however, did not retract his intention to take sanyas, although he did not specify the duration of his break from active politics.

Slogans like 'Bal Thackeray zindabad' and 'we don't want power, we want our saheb', filled the air even while furious Shiv Sainiks jostled and manhandled ministers, shakha pramukhs and vibhag pramukhs.

Many ministers had also gathered around Matoshri to persuade Thackeray to resume an active role and to guide them as before.

Interestingly, Manohar Joshi, along with his wife Anagha, had left for Lonavala, a nearby hill station, in the morning, and returned only at 1730 hours, well after the storm had passed. In the meantime, Thackeray had already reposed his faith in the chief minister.

A confident Joshi told the media, "Thackeray had not levelled corruption charges against me. Some people are taking undue advantage, and I won't allow this to happen."

Asked why Thackeray did not take him into confidence before levelling serious charges against him in print, Joshi replied, "He is like my father. My father is not alive today, he is my father now."

Addressing the crowds from his balcony on Sunday, Thackeray asked them to remain peaceful and return home. "I am going to weed out corruption," he said.

"I will keep myself aloof from politics for some time now," Thackeray told his followers. "I'm not happy with the functioning of some ministers, leaders of various boards and corporations and some shakha pramukhs."

He also denied that the he had accused the chief minister of corruption charges in the Saamna interview.

However, he said he wanted the chief minister to be careful about mixing around with some people against whom Congress legislator R R Patil had levelled allegations in the assembly, as this might spoil his reputation.

With Thackeray's statements having defused the crisis regarding the CM's continuance in office and the government's stability, the budget session of the state legislature, which is in progress in Bombay, is expected to continue smoothly. The state budget for 1998-99 is to be presented today.

Taking heed of Thackeray's remark, Joshi on Sunday evening said the party needed the Sena chief's active leadership. "We will try to remove them," he said of his leader's charge about corrupt ministers. "We all are of the view that Thackeray should not step aside."

Replying to Thackeray's criticism that he did not come to the defence of his family members, Joshi recalled how he had single-handedly fought the Opposition in the Kini murder case, and stated in the assembly that Raj Thackeray was not involved in the case. "You can always check the records from the legislative assembly on this."

Making no bones about his relationship with senior Congress leader and Sena's principal enemy Sharad Pawar, Joshi said it dates back many years and nothing is hidden about it.

"But I have never let personal friendship come in the way of political ideology. I've criticised Pawar during the election. Balasaheb knows how much I oppose him politically. I have not met Pawar even once in the last six months," Joshi said.

Compiled by Prasanna D Zore from the Marathi media

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