NAGPUR, Maharashtra — Until recently, Raj Thackeray, chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, was actively trolling Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. A notice by the Enforcement Directorate, and a day-long inquiry, cast a prolonged spell of silence over the once-vocal MNS chief.
He piped up during the Maharashtra assembly elections last year, but lapsed into silence when his party was routed. On Thursday, Raj spoke after a gap of almost two months, but his speech left many — both within his party and outside — shocked, surprised and perplexed.
Almost 14 years after the formation of the MNS, Thackeray called for a party conclave and changed his party’s flag from green, blue and saffron to just saffron — offering a clear indication of the path he intended to choose.
If anyone was still harbouring any doubts, they were quickly dispelled when Raj began his speech with, “My Hindu brothers and sisters”, a twist on the “My Marathi brothers and sisters” salutation that he had adopted when he set up the party.
Raj also announced a protest march to protest the nation-wide protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act that, critics say, makes religion a basis for citizenship.
“It is time to throw out Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants out of our country,” he announced, suggesting the man who had once called Modi a “threat to India democracy” was suddenly chanting from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prayer book.
Raj was, as he reminded his slightly disoriented party cadres, a Marathi but also a Hindu too. The saffronisation of their flag, he said, was a necessary corrective of a previous mistake.
The previous flag was selected as some people suggested it goes with social engineering, he claimed, “I was only 37 years old then and I listened to them.” The tipping point, he claimed, was the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed national register of citizens
“With CAA and NRC,...