'Badle ki bhavna (revengeful politics) was never seen in Maharashtra and Indian politics, but now we are witnessing all that today.'
Sanjay Raut, the outspoken spokesperson of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi and Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena, spent more than three months in jail before being granted bail on November 9.
The Enforcement Directorate had accused Raut in the Patra Chawl scam and alleged a fraud of Rs 1,034 crore (Rs 10.34 billion).
According to the ED's allegation, Raut and a close friend Pravin Raut, a former director in Guruashish Construction Private Limited, were involved in financial irregularities in the redevelopment of the Patra Chawl in Goregaon, north west Mumbai.
The Rajya Sabha MP was arrested on July 31 from his residence in Mumbai by the Enforcement Directorate and sent to the city's dreaded Arthur Road jail.
In his bail order, Special Judge M G Deshpande of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act court called Raut's arrest illegal.
'Prima facie, there is absolutely nothing to show that whatever (money) received by Sanjay Raut is proceeds of crime,' the court said while releasing Raut on bail.
Judge Deshpande further said the Enforcement Directorate was making arrests with a 'pick and choose attitude'.
The ED has now moved the Bombay high court opposing Raut's bail, and its plea will be heard on November 25.
Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com met Sanjay Raut in his office and discussed his arrest, his time in jail, the Shiv Sena's future, and the general elections of 2024.
Former prime minister Chandra Shekhar once said he had two choices -- one was to support Indira Gandhi during the Emergency; the second was to go to jail instead. He preferred to go to jail rather than support Indira Gandhi.
In a similar scenario, you had a chance to join the BJP, but you preferred to go to jail rather than joining hands with the party.
What made you and your party take on the BJP in Maharashtra?
We have the same situation in the country today. Either you go to jail or join the BJP and clean yourself with Bharatiya Janata Laundry Machine. Whatever stains you have in your life will be washed by them.
People like me preferred to go to jail. Some of our party people went with them because they did not want to go to jail. They got scared and therefore our party broke up.
I felt I am the leader of the party (in the Rajya Sabha) and if I go on bended knees to join the BJP, then our party will completely break up.
I was arrested illegally and I had no role in the allegations that were charged on me.
I also know that now, after I am out of jail in this case, they will frame me in some or the other case wrongly. This will continue till the 2024 general elections and I am not alone who knows this fact, there are many other politicians who are aware of this.
But it is okay, I am ready to face whatever comes my way. So, I too took the same step of Chandra Shekharji during the Emergency. I preferred going to jail rather than joining hands with the BJP.
You have been a voracious reader, a journalist and editor. Did you get time to read books in jail? If yes, which ones?
I thought the jail was so big that there must be some good library at the Arthur Road jail.
There are so many inmates in jail who are educated and they wanted to read and write, but I did not see any reading material that was provided or available to them.
Luckily for me, I used to call for my books from outside and I would get it. I used to read and write notes.
I have written my diary on the days I spent in jail.
Read, think and write. This is what I was doing all the time in jail.
You have been a great admirer of Savarkar and Tilak. Did you recall their struggle during your stay in jail?
It is not a joy to live in jail. Every minute you spend in jail is like you are spending one year.
I used to think how these great leaders spent so much time in jail. And that too in the Andaman jail for Veer Savarkar and the Mandalay prison in Burma for Lokmanya Tilak. There was no communication available to them at that time. No meeting with family members in jail.
On the contrary I was in a Mumbai jail, and once in 10 or 15 days someone used to visit me.
Any book in particular you read and recall, that you would like to share?
I read a lot of books and have made personal notes of it. I am going to bring out a book on my jail life in which I will share all those details.
It is not even a week since you came out of jail and here your party's senior leader Gajanan Kirtikar has quit and joined Eknath Shinde. Do you feel hurt when you see such moves by older party members?
I feel sad and hurt for sure because when the party is in trouble, then old-timers just find an excuse to quit the party.
Kirtikar has been our six-time MLA. He has been a two-time member of Parliament from our party. Whenever there was our government in Maharashtra he got a ministerial position too.
Whatever the party could give you, it gave you and still you want to blame wrongly and quit the party. And that too by making any kinds of allegations, then it surely is a sad development.
But let me clarify, his son Anand Kirtikar is our Shiv Sena's general secretary and he is still with us.
It looks like families have broken up in the Shiv Sena because of the split in the party.
In Indian politics, families never used to split from within, but now this new trend has started.
Break the family, break the party, break the house and finish them completely.
Badle ki bhavna (revengeful politics) was never seen in Maharashtra and Indian politics, but now we are witnessing all that today.
How will you turn the tide?
People understand as time passes. Winds of change take place and people start seeing things clearly. People change with changing times. Climate change in Indian politics will surely happen.
After you came out of jail, your statement on meeting Devendra Fadnavis became very controversial. People are giving a political colour to it. Can you clarify?
If I want to meet the home minister of Maharashtra, what is wrong in that?
There are many questions that I want to ask Fadnavis about jail situations, like jail police conditions.
Nobody is talking about these issues and I have seen these issues closely.
What is wrong if I say I want to meet Fadnavis and highlight these issues to him.
I am also a member of Parliament and I was told by the people in jail to raise their issues with Fadnavis which I will surely do after I meet him.
There is speculation that there has been some future understanding between the BJP and Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena.
People infer political speculation from such statements. Let them do so. Logon ka kaam hai kehna, kehne do.
Before you went to jail you said Pede batva, Maharashtra kamjor hot aahey. (Distribute sweets, Maharashtra is getting weakened). Do you see it was prophetic considering the industrial projects that were to come to Maharashtra went to Gujarat?
There is a big conspiracy going on against Maharashtra state. And people like me, who raise our voice against this conspiracy, are put behind bars.
The Shiv Sena as a party will raise its voice, so what do they do? They break up the party.
When Sanjay Raut raises his voice on such issues, he is put behind bars.
Therefore, I said, Maharashtra kamjor hot aahey. Kuch logon ko accha lagta hoga isiliye pede baato (Maharashtra is getting weakened. Some people are liking it so distribute sweets).
Do you think this was a planned design to target Maharashtra and you are one of their obstacles so you were sent to jail?
Definitely. Maharashtra is one state of India which is known for bravery and valour of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. We are fighters. We fight till our last breath. We also have the legacy of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Was this all done to benefit only one state, Gujarat, before elections there?
There were many projects that could have gone to a lot of other states like Jharkhand, Bihar or for that matter even Uttar Pradesh as they are backward states. Not a single project went to those states. But all projects are going only to one state and therefore people have started doubting the intentions (of the Modi government).
Your photograph with Uddhav, of you with your arms around his shoulder (below), is probably the first time a Shiv Sainik has put his arms around a Thackeray.
Seeing it, someone commented that it shows that everyone feared Balasaheb, but no one fears Uddhav, which is why 40 MLAs left him. Do you agree?
I have a personal friendship with Uddhav Thackeray. I don't have a political friendship with him.
In the same way, I had a lot of love and respect for Balasaheb Thackeray too. Uddhavji and I grew up together in politics.
But that fear factor of the Shiv Sena has gone?
It is still there and therefore we are being sent to jail.
But the fear of Uddhav Thackeray is not there as compared to Balasaheb Thackeray. Can we say that?
The fear was of the Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation. Therefore, these leaders ran away from our party.
West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra are three states that account for around 130 parliamentary seats.
In West Bengal, you have a resurgent Mamata Banerjee, in Bihar you have Nitish-Lalu alliance and in Maharashtra you have an alliance with Congress and Nationalist Congress Party.
Do you feel in such a scenario it won't be easy for the BJP to win the 2024 elections?
Definitely. We will fight zordar. I firmly believe, political equations will change in 2024.
People have started understanding the ground realities now. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is becoming successful across all the states it is passing.
Mamata Banerjee too said yesterday that there will be a change of power at the Centre in 2024.
What about the Mumbai municipal elections? Are you sure of winning?
We are confident of winning Mumbai municipality elections whenever it happens.
You saw what happened in the by-election to the Andheri East legislative seat. The BJP candidate ran away and did not contest the elections due to fear of losing.
This at a time when our election symbol was frozen by the Election Commission of India and we got a new party symbol. Our party name was also changed and still 68,000 people from that constituency came out and voted for the Shiv Sena.
We had no time to prepare too and still people came out in big numbers to vote for us.
Had the BJP contested the seat or even if the Shinde Sena had contested the seat, we would have got more than one lakh votes for sure.
There was something called a Hindutva voter who was always with you and the BJP in Maharashtra. Do you feel your party has lost that voter forever after the alliance with the Congress and NCP?
Hindutva voters are still with us.
But what about the philosophy of Veer Savarkar which your party used to talk of? The BJP accuses you of compromising it by joining hands with the Congress and NCP.
There is no monopoly over Hindutva philosophy for one party. If you think that the BJP is a Hindutva party, then there is a big question mark on that party.
They tied up with Mehbooba Mufti's party in J&K to form the government, where did the BJP's Hindutva philosophy disappear then?
Now, they are pointing one finger at us forgetting that the three fingers are pointing back towards them.