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Who 'Trapped' Raj Thackeray?

May 25, 2022 10:12 IST
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'Getting Brijbhushan to rake up Thackeray's anti-north Indian stand is the BJP's way of cutting Raj Thackeray to size.'
'Could just one MP have stopped Raj Thackeray's Ayodhya tour?'

IMAGE: A banner showing Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray outside a Hanuman temple in Pune. Photograph: ANI Photo

With leaders from the Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena and Congress pointing the fingers at the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, obviously, is washing its hands off Raj Thackeray's suspension of his Ayodhya visit terming it as "politically insignificant".

Caught in a tight spot after tweeting about the suspension of his June 5 Ayodhya visit, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray chose a small auditorium in Pune to offer an explanation for his decision and political tongues have been wagging in the state since then.

While the Pune police imposed restrictions on the number of people who could be present at the Ganesh Kala Krida Kendra auditorium and on the content of his public address, Raj Thackeray -- who was in obvious pain on Sunday, May 22, and is scheduled to undergo surgery (whether hip, back or knee is still a matter of speculation) on June 4 -- could not have asked for a better setting.

'Some people wanted to trap me and MNS workers by slapping false charges on them. I don't want that to happen,' Raj Thackeray told his supporters who have been speculating over the reason for the suspension of his Ayodhya visit.

So, who trapped Thackeray?

"We believe that the Maharashtra people are smart enough, and so we leave it to them, to read between the lines and figure out what he meant by saying some people were trying to trap and who those people are," says MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande who tweeted a photograph of BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh with NCP President Sharad Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule, the NCP MP from Baramati, at a wrestling match in Maharashtra.

Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, the BJP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh, had vowed not to let Raj Thackeray enter UP unless he apologised for the MNS attacks on north Indians in the early 2000s.

"It does not matter if the photo I shared is two years old or four years old," adds Deshpande. "Importantly, it shows the relationship between these people (Pawar and Singh)." Brijbhushan Sharan Singh is the president of the Wrestling Federation of India.

Deshpande and MNS cadres accuse Pawar of scheming with Brijbhushan Sharan Singh to compel Thackeray to suspend his visit.

"Let the Shiv Sena say whatever it wants to say," says Deshpande about the Shiv Sena's charge that the BJP is a use-and-throw party and did to Raj Thackeray what it did to the Shiv Sena in 2019 by refusing to let Uddhav Thackeray become Maharashtra's chief minister.

Shiv Sena leaders claim the BJP 'used' Raj Thackeray to needle the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra with his loudspeaker campaign and then discarded him.

"Raj saheb saw through this trap at the right time. If Raj saheb had been to Ayodhya and if some unwarranted situation had arisen there, then would anybody have been spared in Maharashtra?" asks Deshpande, the MNS leader.

"Ultimately, MNS workers would have been charged with criminal cases and that was their (the Maharashtra government's) game plan. They wanted to trap MNS workers just before the crucial elections to the BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation) but Raj saheb was smart enough to see through this trap," is how Deshpande rationalises his leader's u-turn on his Ayodhya visit.

"We don't care or give any value to what our opponents think about the BJP," says Atul Bhatkhalkar, the BJP MLA from Kandivali East in north west Mumbai.

"The media and our political opponents may spin any yarn they want to (around the suspension of Raj Thackeray's visit to Ayodhya). From the day he announced this visit, the state BJP has been clear that anybody who wants to seek the blessings of Ram Lalla should be allowed to go to Ayodhya," says Bhatkhalkar.

"As far as the political side of the suspension of his visit it is a politically insignificant issue for BJP. His tour to Ayodhya, or its cancellation, would in no way alter how the BJP continues to expose the Uddhav Thackeray government," adds Bhatkhalkar.

"The people of Maharashtra saw through the MNS-BJP plan and supported the government by not getting agitated over religious issues," says Atul Londhe, the Maharashtra Congress's chief spokesperson and general secretary.

"When the BJP realised that their plan was being foiled, they decided to discard him (Raj Thackeray)," says Londhe.

"Soon, the Ranas (independent MP from Amravati Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana who were arrested and later released on bail for disturbing peace in their effort to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside Matoshree, Uddhav Thackeray's home) too will be given the Raj Thackeray treatment. They too will be discarded," predicts Londhe.

Is the BJP really a use-and-throw party?

"The BJP felt threatened by his (Raj Thackeray's) emergence as a 'Hindu Jan-Nayak', who could usurp its Hindutva support base in Maharashtra. The BJP doesn't want one more Yogi (UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who some see as a future challenger to Narendra Modi) at this juncture," says a Shiv Sena MP who spoke on condition that his identity was not revealed in this report.

"Getting Brijbhushan to rake up Thackeray's anti-north Indian stand is the BJP's way of cutting Raj Thackeray to size. Could just one MP have stopped Raj Thackeray's Ayodhya tour? The state chief minister (Yogi Adityanath) kept mum, the national president (Jagat Prakash Nadda) ignoring it? Not a single senior BJP leader from Maharashtra or at the Centre spoke with Singh to calm down tempers in UP," the Sena MP pointed out.

"The BJP did the same with Narayan Rane by first allowing him to join the BJP to weaken the Shiv Sena in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg and when he started asserting himself they clipped his wings by letting the state government act against the Ranes in various cases and let them fend for themselves," the Sena MP alleges.

"It was Devendra Fadnavis's ploy; he used Rane to goad Raj Thackeray get into the Hindutva fold and now both Rane and Thackeray have been made to cut a sorry figure in the state," the Sena leader says with a laugh. Fadnavis, the former BJP chief minister, is currently leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra assembly.

Is Raj Thackeray politically so naive?

"This is not the first time he has been used by politicians to settle scores with their opponents. The Congress's Vilasrao Deshmukh, Prithviraj Chavan, Sharad Pawar (all former chief ministers) and now the BJP used him at different times to settle scores with their political opponents, but every time he came out shining," says Vivek Bhavsar, a political observer.

"Raj Thackeray always knew the BJP is a use-and-throw party yet he decide to tag along, and rightly so, because the anti-loudspeaker agitation and recital of the Hanuman Chalisa helped the MNS make a comeback. He may be lazy, he may not be sincere, but he is definitely a shrewd politician," says the Shiv Sena MP.

"While Thackeray's Ayodhya visit will remain in limbo permanently, he will bounce back," predicts Bhavsar. "His support of issues close to the heart of the RSS will make it difficult for state BJP leaders to ignore him."

"The BJP is doing today what the Congress and NCP have always done," says a professor of political science at Mumbai University.

"The BJP wanted to use Raj Thackeray only as a pawn against his cousin (Uddhav), but they could not digest the overwhelming response he got for his agitation against loudspeakers atop mosques," says the professor, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The BJP miscalculated that his agitation would create a tense situation and be limited only to Maharashtra. But then the issue spread nationally with many mosques voluntarily removing loudspeakers while forcing other state governments to follow the directives of the Supreme Court," adds the professor. "Willy-nilly, the final beneficiary of this movement turned out to be Raj Thackeray."

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