Mumbai: AMaharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray is currently on a mega-mission to invite leading personalities for his son Amit’s upcoming wedding – and thereby winning friends and influencing foes ahead of the 2019 elections.
On Sunday, he set political tongues a-wagging after a nearly two-hour meeting with Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, ostensibly to present the wedding invite and solicit his blessings for the young couple, Amit and Mitali Borude.
More so, since it came a day after his well-publicised meeting with cousin and Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, whom he personally went to invite for the wedding.
Even more significant, Thackeray is expected to call on Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi soon, to, of course – invite him for the Jan 27 wedding.
However, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik promptly dismissed Raj’s call on Pawar as “purely social and non-political”, helpfully qualifying that “there was no discussion on elections” during the long meet.
Nevertheless, informed political sources on both sides hint at something more being cooked than only a wedding feast – possibly an electoral arrangement with the help of the NCP chief – to enable the 13-year old MNS regain a foothold in state and national politics.
In the past few years, Thackeray has been a stringent critic of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah.
Though it sounded sweet music to the ears of the state opposition parties, most were reluctant to politically sup with him, leaving the MNS virtually a pariah hungering for power.
Unabashedly praising Modi barely five years ago, Thackeray turned a razor-sharp Modi-baiter, sparing no opportunity to lambast both the him and the BJP, on all issues, besides regularly lampooning them through his famed cartoons.
Despite such credentials, the Congress-NCP, who are busy finalising an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabhapols, cold-shouldered Thackeray, and even cousin Uddhav coolly ignored all feelers for Marathi-Manoos’ parties (MNS-SS) joining forces.
Probably, his son’s wedding may soften some hearts and open a tiny backdoor for Raj Thackeray to tip-toe into an Opposition alliance.
Political speculation is rife that the MNS may get a Lok Sabha from the NCP quota from Mumbai, but both sides remain mum on the issue.
Privately, leaders of most parties admit that there are very few leaders in the opposition camp who can match Raj Thackeray’s oratory skills, the likes of which would be in great demand vis-a-vis the formidable Modi, during the anticipated rough-and-tough poll campaign.
Sour with the MNS for its stringent anti-north Indian stance in the past nearly a decade, Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam, (hailing from Bihar) is strongly opposed to any suggestions to include the party in any opposition alliance.
The apprehension is that giving a lift to MNS in the state could undermine the support of the strong north-Indian community – from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, besides Uttarakhand, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, and even Rajasthan – enjoyed by the Congress, NCP, Samajwadi Party and others here.
Though feeling left-out, but not out, Thackeray sought to make sincere amends by attending a high-profile meeting of the Uttar Bharatiya Manch (UBM) on Dec 2, and attempted to build bridges into their hearts by addressing them in Hindi.
It’s also a known fact that Pawar-Raj enjoy each other’s company and are often seen together – on Oct 26, they were chatting away on a Aurangabad-Mumbai flight.
Earlier, on Feb 21, Raj escorted and interviewed Pawar on a public platform in Pune with a 5,000-strong live audience. They have routinely met on several occasions, all described as ‘courtesy calls’.