'Shiv Sena is a natural fit for me'
'Shiv Sena is the only party that has a mass base and strong presence on the ground'
The exodus from the Nationalist Congress Party has reached its peak so much so that its Mumbai unit chief and former Maharashtra minister Sachin Ahir joined the Shiv Sena on July 25, 2019.
Ahir, who was housing developement minister in the previous Congress-NCP coalition government in the state, was associated with the Sharad Pawar-led party since its formation in 1999.
He represented the Shivdi assembly seat in Mumbai from 1999 to 2009 and was later elected from Worli, in central Mumbai, after delimitation of constituencies.
In the 2014 assembly elections in which the BJP-Shiv Sena defeated the Congress-NCP, Ahir lost the assembly election to the Shiv Sena's Sunil Shinde.
"As an Opposition party in the state, there is no proposal or plan for political revival since the last one year. That is also a concern for leaders like us," Ahir tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore.
Why did you quit the Nationalist Congress Party?
I thought it was high time for me to give space to the young leadership in the NCP.
I have been part of the party for 20 years since its foundation and have served two-terms as president of the Mumbai NCP.
I thought whatever best I could deliver for the city as a member of the NCP has been delivered.
Now, I want to do more by using my expertise in the housing sector for the benefit of the city and Maharashtra.
When (Shiv Sena youth chief) Aditya (Thackeray) met me, we discussed our ideas for the well-being and development of the city and that’s how it clicked.
Then I took a call to join the Shiv Sena.
What went wrong after 20 years with the NCP?
It was very difficult for me to take a call on this.
The last 20 years had been the most fruitful and happiest (with the NCP).
After 2014, I got lots of offers from many parties to join them but I refused to quit the NCP.
I stayed with the party because I knew the party needed me.
Since then we did struggle a lot to promote the interests of the party.
But now it was a big question for me as well as my political followers.
So, we took the call (to join the Shiv Sena).
Were you not happy with the NCP leadership after the party chief, Sharad Pawar, took backstage in the day-to-day matters of the party?
In fact, Mr Sharad Pawar is more actively involved (in party affairs) now.
All the major NCP leaders are still very attached to him.
But then political survival and development of the area to which these leaders belong, the expectations of their voters from them, and their (voters’) mandate also count.
It was then high time (for me) to take a call (of joining the Shiv Sena).
For the first time, at the all-India level and in the state, the Congress has become so weak, that it is like sailing with a sinking boat.
In the state (Congress) there is one president and four working presidents.
In Mumbai too, their president (Milind Deora) has resigned and they have a working president (for the city).
As an Opposition party in the state, there is no proposal or plan for political revival since the last one year.
That is also a concern for leaders like us.
Can we say that Sachin Ahir did not want to sail in a sinking boat of the Congress-NCP alliance and so he joined the Shiv Sena?
If we had come together to fight the last (assembly) elections the current alliance would not have been in power.
But the situation now, statewide or nationwide, they (the Congress) are so weak and they don’t have a revival plan.
Is the NCP also a sinking boat now?
A party cannot sink but I am talking about the leadership in the Congress.
The NCP will always be there.
Its size could become less.
No party gets destroyed in a day.
Are you saying you did not get enough opportunities in the NCP to execute your dream for Mumbai and its development?
It doesn’t matter if I got the opportunity or not to work for the development of Mumbai.
The question was nothing concrete was materialising out of my day-and-night hard work for the city.
Also, I was in one post for such a long time that I thought it necessary to give space to the young leadership in the NCP.
Till the day I joined the party (the Shiv Sena), we were criticising the working of the BJP-Shiv Sena government and exposing their inadequacies.
For me, though, only the platform has changed now.
We did a good job as an active opposition and now I will do a good job for my party (Shiv Sena).
What was discussed in the meeting between you and Shiv Sena youth president Aditya Thackeray before you joined his party?
We used to criticise each other but there are lot of common interests we shared.
We would always discuss plans for Mumbai’s development and welfare when we met.
We would discuss employment opportunities for the youth of Maharashtra, empowerment of youth and women, and making youth more employable.
We both thought about working together and that’s how it (my entry into the Shiv Sena) happened.
Why did you choose to join the Shiv Sena and not the BJP, as it happens to be the rising and the go-to party right now across India? There is news of NCP veteran Ganesh Naik and his son heading for the BJP.
As I said, we happened to share a lot of common interests and plans for the development of Mumbai and Maharashtra.
That is what attracted me to the party.
Then Aditya took me to (Shiv Sena executive president) Uddhavji (Thackeray) and he welcomed me like family.
There was a huge comfort level.
It was not very easy to leave the family which I built for 20 years but then I got a very warm welcome from the Thackeray family.
More than politics it was the comfort level from the family that helped me make up my mind.
They have given me an opportunity to work for the city from their platform and I am very happy about how it is moving ahead.
You have tweeted a lot of objectionable things about the Shiv Sena.
I don’t deny that but those (tweets) were my party’s stand.
At that time, there were issues on which I had had differences of opinion with the Shiv Sena and voiced them openly.
But now I can talk (about those issues) within the party also.
Being an organisational person who has been actively involved in connecting with the cadres, the party leadership, I believe that the Shiv Sena is the only party that has a mass base and strong presence on the ground.
The Shiv Sena is a natural fit for me.
I don’t want to name any party but the most important difference between these other parties and the Shiv Sena is that the Shiv Sena still carries that organisational structure that attracted me to it.
Why weren’t you comfortable with joining the BJP?
It was not like I had a choice between the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
Joining the Sena was a well-thought out decision after several interactions with Aditya.
It was not like first I went to the BJP, then to the Shiv Sena and then to some other party before joining the Sena.
Were you approached by any leader from the BJP to join them?
No, no, no, no.
In fact, some of my dearest friends from the BJP were shocked.
When they wished me (for joining the Shiv Sena), they wished me half-heartedly.
They still ask me why I didn’t join them.
Now that you have joined the Shiv Sena, do you look at Aditya Thackeray as the next chief minister of Maharashtra?
I think the party has to take a call on it and both the parties (Sena and the BJP) have to decide upon that.
But Aditya is showing the potential to lead the state.
Whether he can lead the state as its chief minister or not is for the party president Uddhavji and for the BJP leadership to decide after the forthcoming elections are over.
It is too early and premature to discuss this now.
What do you make of NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s allegations that the BJP is blackmailing opposition party leaders to join them?
I personally would not like to comment on that now that I am a part of the Shiv Sena.
Uddhavji and party spokesperson and senior leader Sanjay Raut has already said there is no basis for such allegations.
That’s the party stand.
Would you be contesting from the same Vidhan Sabha constituency of Worli or will you be vacating it for Aditya Thackeray?
I have always said that if Aditya makes up his mind to contest, he should contest from Worli.
Because it is an iconic constituency and people there have multiple issues.
The constituency has high rises as well as slums and old buildings too.
Whatever work I have done for the people of Worli, if he takes forward the work in the same spirit, then Worli can be developed into a model constituency for Mumbai.
So, I personally feel that if he should lead, he should contest from Worli.
When it comes to me contesting the election or not to contest, I would let party chief Uddhavji take the call.
Did you appraise the NCP chief Pawar about your decision to quit the party? Did you meet him before leaving the party?
I briefed him (about the situation in the party and Congress) but I could not tell him that I am leaving the party because I have immense respect for him.
Your impressions about Sharad Pawar?
He is a towering and iconic leader of Maharashtra.
Every youth in the state must draw inspiration from his leadership style.
If the Shiv Sena and the BJP go their own ways after the assembly elections later this year and if no party is in a position to form the next government on its own, would you take the lead in bringing the NCP and Shiv Sena together to form the next government?
This is an exaggerated thought.
I don’t think any such event will actually materialise.
But whatever responsibility comes my way as a Shiv Sainik, I will fulfill it with great responsibility and honesty.