'Our fight is against his political masters, the BJP and Devendra Fadnavis.'
Ever since her 20-minute fiery speech at Uddhav Thackeray's Dussehra rally on October 5, Sushma Andhare has raised the pitch in her party's political fight against Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis.
Andhare, who belongs to the Wanjari nomadic tribe, speaks with Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com about why the BJP and Shinde's Sena are on the defensive despite their attempts to corner Uddhav Thackeray over the issue of Hindutva.
This interview was recorded before the Bharatiya Janata Party decided to withdraw its candidate Murji Patel from the Andheri (East) bypoll scheduled for November 3.
"A withdrawal would be just the BJP's face saver," says Andhare.
How do you look at the Bombay high court order directing the BMC to accept Rutuja Latke's resignation letter?
The basic principle of the Indian Constitutional framework is decentralisation of power and zero interference of institutions (like the BMC in politics). It is not the BMC's duty to support a political party in playing political games against opponents.
We can understand political parties playing dirty, but to use a local self-government institution to further one's political agenda and that institution's meek subordination to power is unacceptable.
Be it denying Uddhav saheb the permission to hold our annual Dasra (Dussehra) rally at Shivaji Park (on October 5) or purposely not accepting Rutuja Latke's resignation, I would suggest that those BMC officials resign from their jobs and join the BJP.
Why work as part-time workers of the BJP when you can join them en bloc and reap the benefits of joining the richest political party in India?
Are you saying the BJP is trying to corner Uddhav Thackeray by using the BMC?
Not just the BMC. They are using every institution at the central, state and local level to try to corner Uddhavji. Let them bring thousand more institutions to defeat us, but they will never succeed in their dirty politics.
They (the BJP-Shinde camp) can love or hate the Shiv Sena (of Uddhav Thackeray), but you cannot ignore us.
You can shower your contempt on us; you can hit us below the belt, but you just cannot ignore the Shiv Sena. The people of Maharashtra will teach you a lesson. Ignore us at your own peril.
You have been trying to corner us by saying that we no more adhere to Balasaheb's Hindutva.
Prabodhankar*'s Hindutva was Hindutva of tolerance whose legacy was carried forward by the vandaniya (honourable) Balasaheb; Balasaheb clearly underlined that his Hindutva does not represent the Hindutva of shendi-janhava (a ponytail and sacred thread worn around one's shoulders which has been a symbol of ritualistic Brahminism).
We believe in Savarkar**'s Hindutva who said that we cannot show contempt towards Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, or whoever resides in the Sindhu river valley; and if Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray is taking all the Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, the tribals, the OBCs, the SCs and STs, then your criticism of Uddhavji not following Balasaheb's Hindutva rings hollow.
How do you see Raj Thackeray's appeal to Devendra Fadnavis to withdraw their candidate in the Andheri bypoll?
This is just another political stunt that the MNS chief is indulging in. The late (Ramesh) Latkeji was the elected MLA from Andheri (E) from where he has won time and again.
It has always been a tradition in Maharashtra that if an elected legislator passes away during her or his tenure, then the vacant seat is given to that person's spouse or relative and she/he gets elected unopposed.
It is an unwritten code that we have always followed in the state.
Even when Ramesh Wanjale, the MNS's MLA from Pune, died in 2011, Harshada vahini (sister-in-law; Wanjale's spouse) contested from some other party (the NCP), Raj Thackeray had taken a principled stand that the MNS would not field a candidate against her and they did not.
But I don't think the BJP is capable of showing such political decency. They did not show such decency in Pandharpur or Kolhapur bypoll (where a bypoll was necessitated due to death of an elected MLA and their relatives contested) where the BJP fielded its candidate.
I don't feel that the BJP has got anything to do with political decency.
Even then we appreciate Raj Thackeray's appeal to the BJP and can attribute it to two reasons.
One, the BJP is sure about the defeat of its candidate and even so if the BJP withdraws its candidate then we can say that some semblance of political decency is still left in the BJP.
Can we see MNS's support for Rutuja Latke's candidature as a thaw between the Thackeray cousins, Uddhav and Raj?
I seriously doubt it. Raj Thackeray has been consistently shifting his political stance. One day he will talk about akhand Maharashtra (a united Maharashtra) and a day later when he is in Vidarbha, he talks about the formation of Vidarbha as a separate state.
Some day he speaks for the Marathi manoos and the very next day he is on the dais addressing north Indians.
According to me he is a very unpredictable leader. I respect him as the chief of a political party; he definitely is a skilled orator, but his political unpredictability has no comparison.
Let our political opponents indulge in any skullduggery, tricks they want to indulge in. Uddhav saheb's Shiv Sena will fight its own battle on its own strength and the strength of its Shiv Sainiks.
If you join us, you are welcome; if you oppose us, you are still welcome; but we will continue our fight for justice and truth against the BJP.
What if the BJP withdraws its candidate for the Andheri bypoll? Will that be a sign of political decency?
It will be a clear indication that the BJP and Eknath Shinde camp are on the defensive. And a withdrawal would be just the BJP's face saver.
Kheme main khalbali toh machi zaroor hai (the BJP-Shinde camp is badly shaken).
They know that not just Hindus, but even Muslims, Dalits are strongly behind Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray.
Even though they got some crowd for their Dasra rally, everybody was convinced that it was a paid crowd unlike the genuine supporters of the Shiv Sena who came to listen to Uddhavji at Shivaji Park.
All this indicates that the BJP-Shinde camp is shaken, are on the back foot and looking for face savers to limit political loss.
If your game is based on using dirty tricks to affect the game of the other (political) party (read Shiv Sena -- Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), then definitely your performance will suffer.
I will advise them (the BJP-Shinde camp) to focus on their own performance, fight a fair political battle and let the people of Maharashtra decide who they support.
Shinde saheb is only reacting to every move that Uddhavji takes. If Uddhavji makes a statement in Maharashtra, Shinde saheb goes to Delhi in search of a response.
Shinde saheb waited for Uddhavji to finish his Dasra speech and, predictably, he started his address to counter each and every point highlighted by Uddhavji.
Have you become Maharashtra's CM to counter Uddhavji's statements or to solve the issues faced by Maharashtra's people? I believe that he (Shinde) has still not come to terms with the fact that he is now Maharashtra's chief minister and what his roles and responsibilities are.
Instead of leaving his stamp as a chief minister of Maharashtra, all his energies are focused on proving that he has an upper hand over Uddhavji. This shortsightedness is blinding Shinde saheb to up his game as Maharashtra's CM.
We have been repeatedly emphasising that our fight is not against the puppet chief minister Eknath Shinde or his Shiv Sena. Our fight is directly against his political masters, the BJP and Devendra Fadnavis.
Would Eknath Shinde be welcome back to the Shiv Sena if he so wishes?
It is a good sign if one regrets his ill decisions. If ever Shinde saheb regrets his decision, then definitely our honourable party president Uddhav saheb will think over it. Of course, it will be entirely his decision, but of what we know of our party chief he never indulges in the politics of revenge or deceit.
Is there a threat to you and your daughter's safety?
Even today I received a call -- off the record from some police officers -- and they advised me to take precautions. They said that it was natural for me to receive threats from unknown sources when I am taking on big leaders (Sushma Amdhare has been charged with mimicking Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi).
To (the cabinet minister in the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government Deepak) Kesarkar who says that I talk nonsense (about threats to her and her daughter's life), I would like to ask why are police officials coming to my house asking me if I need protection? Why are cops coming to my home and asking if I am safe?
The police department is asking me if I need protection; I have not requested any police protection. Then, why do the police want to give me protection. They must be having some inputs.
I have only one advice for them (people who are threatening her): Do whatever you want; I won't be cowed down.
I don't have any of fear the ED or the CBI. I come from an ordinary family; from a remote hilly, tribal, area. I don't have books with notorious accounts.
What you can only do is as a tribal female you can hit me below the belt. This is one of the options that are often used against leaders like me. Or, you can have me attacked physically or lodge false complaints against me.
You have already charged me under Section 153 (giving provocative speeches with the intent to create riots). You do whatever you want. I have decided to fight such forces till the very end.
*Keshav Sitaram 'Prabodhankar' Thackeray, social reformer, writer and Bal Thackeray's father.
**Vinayak Damodar 'Veer' Savarkar, ideologue who proposed the theory of Hindutva.