Staying relevant: Raj Thackeray, Fadnavis meet in Mumbai amid rumours of future alliance

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CM Devendra Fadnavis (left) and Raj Thackeray.EVEN AS Raj Thackeray-led MNS, which is fighting for survival in Maharashtra’s political landscape, is going for a makeover with an all-saffron flag, the party also seems to be preparing to join hands with the BJP — the party that it has heavily criticized over the past five years — to reverse its dwindling relevance.

Raj Thackeray’s meeting with former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai on Tuesday gave credence to the speculation of a possible BJP-MNS tie-up in the future.

“As of now, I cannot say what our chief will announce at the conclave on January 23,” said MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande on Tuesday, when asked whether the party’s stand on the BJP was likely to be made public. Deshpande said he was unaware of the meeting between Raj and Fadnavis. “I have seen it on television channels, but have no idea whether such a meeting took place,” he added. Deshpande said, “The party is keeping all options open,” adding that there will be no announcement regarding an alliance on January 23.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, Raj had sided with the Congress-NCP and targeted the BJP, which hardly had any effect on the electorate as his party failed to make a mark. However, after the Shiv Sena approached Congress and NCP after the Assembly election, the three parties decided to form the government. The Congress-NCP alliance did not even bother to ask Raj whether the MNS would like to join the government, said an MNS leader.
The BJP has refused to openly comment about its close ties with the MNS.

When asked if a BJP-MNS alliance was possible in Maharashtra in the future, BJP state spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said, “The issue of a tie-up is not before us as of now...”, adding that he was unaware of any such meeting between Raj and Fadnavis. Speculation of a possible alliance has been doing the rounds over the past couple of days after MNS leaders openly said there were “no permanent enemies or friends in politics”. “Our party will decide who we should go with. But yes, no party is a perennial enemy,” said MNS leader Bala Nandgaonkar, a close aide of Raj.
“Anything is possible in politics now. Nobody ever thought the Congress and the Shiv Sena will come together, but it happened. Likewise, the BJP and the MNS coming together cannot be ruled out,” Nandgaonkar added.

However, senior Sena leader and minister Subash Desai said, “Those who want to indulge in politicking, let them do so, but we are determined to ensure the progress of the state.” Nawab Malik, the NCP state spokesperson, said, “PM Narendra Modi and our chief Sharad Pawar also keep meeting, but that doesn’t mean the NCP will go with the BJP.” A further indication of growing BJP-MNS proximity has come from Palghar district, where banners carrying pictures of Raj Thackeray alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former CM Devendra Fadnavis have been put up as part of a campaign for the upcoming Zilla Parishad elections.

Also, after the Assembly election, Raj had met BJP leader Ashish Shelar. Raj is also considered to be close to top BJP leader Nitin Gadkari. The possibility of a BJP-MNS tie-up had first emerged before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when Raj and Gadkari held a meeting at a private hotel in Mumbai. After that, they had met at a hotel in Amravati during the Assembly election in October.

Leaders from the MNS said the party was struggling to make its presence felt as, in the last two Assembly elections, it could only manage to win a single seat. It did not contest the Lok Sabha elections though Raj had targeted the BJP in his speeches before the election.

The party’s vote share in the state has been in a freefall since 2014 when it won 13 seats and polled 5.71 percent of all votes. This share has now come down to 2.3 percent. The MNS will unfold its new flag on January 23, which presently has saffron, blue and green stripes. It is changing to an all-saffron flag with Chhatrapati Shivaji’s seal in the middle. The flag unveiling ceremony will be held at a special conclave in Mumbai, the date of which coincides with the birth anniversary of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

The MNS had first unveiled its flag in 2006, which it then said represented different sections of the society.
(With ENS Mumbai)