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'Why has Uddhavji become so helpless?'

June 23, 2023 09:59 IST
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'When I felt that the party is drifting away from Hindutva, I tried to speak to Uddhavji. But nobody was ready to listen.'

IMAGE: Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and Mallikarjun Kharge with Nationalist Congress Party, Congress and Shiv Sena MLAs, November 25, 2019. Photograph: Mitesh Bhuvad/PTI Photo

Ever since Chief Minister Eknath Shinde scooped away 39 Shiv Sena MLAs and toppled the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by then chief minister Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray in June 2022, a steady stream of legislators and party workers have left the Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray.

Dr Manisha Kayande is the most recent SS-UBT legislator who quit Thackeray's party.

In this interview to Prasanna D Zore/ Dr Kayande, who has a PhD in zoology and has been an associate professor, reveals why she quit the party and joined Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena.

What was the immediate reason for you to quit the Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray and join the Shiv Sena headed by Chief Minister Shinde?

My original political background is from the RSS and BJP. I worked in these organisations right since my political age. I have always been living in a Shiv Sena-dominated area and have always worked for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance (which was in place since 1985) alliance during elections.

When I joined the Shiv Sena in 2012 it was unconditional. In the BJP I had contested from the Sion Koliwada constituency (north central Mumbai) in the 2009 election, which I lost due to the MNS vote; in 1997 I lost the (election to the BrihanMumbai Municipal) Corporation by a very thin margin.

I worked in the party like a common Shiv Sainik and then I was named as the party's spokesperson. In 2018, when I was still working as a professor, I was offered the MLC post, after which I resigned my associate professorship and worked very hard outside the legislature and also as a field worker.

In 2019, the BJP-Shiv Sena contested together and we got a common mandate (to form a government in Maharashtra). But suddenly (Uddhav Thackeray decided) to join the Congress and NCP and formed the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

Even then it was a little difficult (for many Shiv Sena MLAs) to digest because we had contested against them (Congress, Nationalist Congress Party) and the people's mandate was for the Shiv Sena-BJP.

But as a loyal party worker we all followed our leader (Uddhav Thackeray who remained chief minister till June 2022), although many party leaders like me thought that it was not an ethical decision to form a government with the Congress and NCP.

They were the ones whom we had contested against, and several of our leaders had defeated those people. Given this background many Shiv Sena elected representatives found it difficult to work with them (the MLAs from the NCP and Congress).

This did not affect me directly, but somewhere we were wavering away from Balasaheb's (Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena's late founder) Hindutva; we were cornered about issues like Savarkar (Vinayak Damodar 'Veer' Savarkar) and Aurangzeb. This was very difficult for me to defend as a spokesperson.

Many in the Shiv Sena are saying that I quit the party because of Sushma Andhare and Sanjay Raut.

This lady (Andhare, a recent entrant into the SS-UBT, has emerged as an influential leader within the party) has been criticising and demeaning all the Hindu gods and goddesses. Being a staunch Hindu, how could I tolerate somebody talking nonsense about our gods and goddesses?

This lady had used very acerbic and abusive language to attack Hindu gods and goddesses and many of us (in the united Shiv Sena) often wondered how she would fit into a party that espouses hardcore Hindutva as its political ideology.

Despite our reservations everybody welcomed her to the party fold, but she kept on supporting narratives that went against our core ideology.

Interestingly, during the Maha Prabodhan Yatra she was tasked with attacking all the 40 MLAs who joined Eknath Shindeji to topple Uddhavji's government. But she started behaving like the party supremo.

What was your main difference with Uddhav Thackeray?

I couldn't see the party betraying its Hindutva ideology just so that we remain in power. How could we make such people (Andhare), who have no respect for Hindu religion and Hindutva, as the party's face?

People like Sushma Andhare and Sanjay Raut created such an atmosphere that we were being cornered by our opponents from the NCP and Congress (over issues related to hardcore Hindutva) and we couldn't take on them just because we were in power.

I don't know why Uddhavji is still continuing with people like Sharad Pawar who have openly criticised him in his book (Lok Maze Sangati).

Now, he (Thackeray) has joined hands with Prakash Ambedkar (Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's grandson) who recently went to pay his respects to Aurangzeb, a cruel Mughal emperor, and bowed before his grave.

No Shiv Sainik who regards Balasaheb as their supremo will ever accept such anti-Hindutva leaders like Andhare and Ambedkar and yet Uddhavji befriends them for political gains.

I fail to understand what type of Hindutva are we (SS-UBT) going towards. The party's DNA is completely changing. I could not tolerate this.

There is no openness (left in the party anymore); we can't discuss with the party chief (Uddhav Thackeray). He does meet us, but not very often there are regular meetings. So when we have to give him some feedback, how do we do that? Who do we talk to for solving certain grievances, certain complaints?

Since the last six months I was strongly feeling that I was no longer needed in the party. I only asked for some post in the party; some position that will help me work for the organisation; I am good at organisational work. I didn't ask Uddhavji for the moon. I just wanted to be part and parcel of the party.

When I felt that the party is drifting away from Hindutva, I tried to speak to Uddhavji. But nobody was ready to listen.

Uddhavji is strongly with the NCP and Congress. I don't know why. This is just an ego issue; joining hands with BJP would have been the best thing.

Why did it take you almost a year after the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government was sworn in to quit SS-UBT?

There is no openness. If you want to complain about certain things, Uddhavji doesn't want to listen to any complaints.

IMAGE: Uddhav Thackeray being greeted by NCP President Sharad Pawar after he was chosen as the nominee for the Maharashtra chief minister's post by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance, November 26, 2019. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

Do you really believe that Uddhav Thackeray has rejected his late father Bal Thackeray's brand of Hindutva?

He is ignoring issues that matter to hardcore Hindutva party workers.

I firmly stood by Uddhavji Thackeray (even after 40 Shiv Sena MLAs rebelled against him in June 2022) and supported his gaddar (Uddhav Thackeray and those close to him have labelled the 40 MLAs and Eknath Shinde as traitors) jibes against these MLAs.

But gradually I realised that these 40 MLAs were finding it extremely difficult to face their constituents, their local supporters who have a strong animosity towards the NCP, Congress and what they stand for politically. These MLAs kept pleading with Uddhavji to disown the Maha Vikas Aghadi and join hands again with the BJP, but he kept ignoring their pleas.

I -- and many others like me -- sincerely hoped (since the day Eknath Shinde rebelled and formed a government with the BJP) that there would be a patch up (between Thackeray and the 40 MLAs) and we will all come together. There were some hopes; many people had hopes (about the patch up between the two).

When you quit Uddhav Thackeray's party, why did you choose to join the Shiv Sena? You said you have a very strong RSS connection and you were also once a BJP member.

Even though I have extremely good relations with all the BJP leaders there was no question of joining the BJP because all my political life I have been a loyal Shiv Sainik.

As I told you earlier, I have lived all my life in the Shiv Sena bastion of Wadala-Naigaon area (north central Mumbai) and have imbibed and internalised the party culture. So, it was an easy choice to make.

SS-UBT leader Sushma Andhare alleges you joined the Shiv Sena because of the fear of investigation based on a letter written by Shiv Sena MP Rahul Shewale to Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

She has also said that I joined the Shiv Sena because my MLC term was ending this July and my former party wouldn't have given me another term. Perhaps, her Civics is very weak or she did not learn it in school.

Once elected, an MLC holds office for six years unlike an MLA whose term is five years. I was elected an MLC in 2018 and my term only ends in July 2024.

The letter written by Rahul Shewale was politically motivated. None of the facts in that letter are true.

How comfortable would you be working with a person against whom you had demanded an SIT (Rahul Shewale) and who has demanded an investigation against you for allegedly demanding money from an MLA?

I don't know from where this letter (allegedly by Rahul Shewale demanding an investigation against Kayande) came. It was only in social media. I don't know who actually has done that because Rahul Shewale never came up with this issue.

In fact, I worked for him when he contested as a Lok Sabha candidate in 2014 and 2019 (Shewale won both elections from Mumbai's South Central constituency).

My relations with him were never strained. In fact, I campaigned for him wholeheartedly during both his elections.

I think that it was a politically motivated and scripted letter by somebody who wanted to malign me.

Whatever said and done (between Shewale and I), why should Sushma Andhare defame me? Why should one woman bring out other woman's issues and malign her politically? Did she ever verify with me (about the authenticity of the letter written by Shewale)?

As my colleague, I always welcomed her. But did she verify with me? Did she ask me what is all this?

How do you react to Sanjay Raut referring to you as kachra (trash) after you quit the SS-UBT and joined the Shiv Sena?

Political decency and Sanjay Raut are opposite poles.

I'll tell you the internal thing. He (Raut) is terribly upset with Sushma Andhare. He had no choice but to go for the Maha Prabodhan Yatra along with Sushma Andhare. He was terribly upset because his limelight was completely stolen by her (during the Yatra).

Also, Andhare has been demanding ACs and sofas from ordinary karyakartas and this news has also reached Matoshree (Uddhav Thackeray's home in north west Mumbai). Why isn't Uddhavji asking her for an explanation into these charges?

Why has Uddhavji become so helpess?

I don't know why Uddhavji has become so helpless. Why is he tolerating people like Andhare and Raut who are working only to finish off his party?

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