Jab we met, then and now Armed with flowers, a Thackeray wants to join hands with Gandhi's

Mumbai: In a hitherto unheard of occurrence, a Thackeray went from Mumbai to New Delhi, to meet a Gandhi. On Monday, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray called on the chairperson of the UPA and the former chief of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, at her official residence, armed with a bouquet of flowers.

The meeting has sparked speculation about a possible alliance of the MNS with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Usually, it is the public which comes calling at various Thackeray abodes.

"The late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray would meet leaders at his residence, Mato-shree. But never did a Gandhi turn up at his residence. Bal Thackeray did meet Indira Gandhi several times at Raj Bhavan in Mumbai when she was Prime Minister.

They would discuss politics and other issues. But he, too, never went to meet Mrs Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi,” Yogesh Trivedi, a veteran journalist and an expert on Shiv Sena history, told The Free Press Journal.

“Balasaheb, too, had supported the Congress in the past. In fact, the Shiv Sena was often described as an organisation promoted by the Congress to counter the Communists in Mumbai.

In its early days, the Sena was labelled 'Vasant Sena' as the then CM of Maharashtra, Vasantrao Naik, supported this organisation in all possible ways,” he recalled.

“The Shiv Sena supported and ensured the victory of Congress candidate Murli Deora for the municipal corporation (BMC) mayoral election. The Sena also supported S G Barve in the 1967 Lok Sabha election.

Balasaheb supported the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. Till the Sena joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party on the Hindutva issue, the Congress and the Shiv Sena were working together.

Even after joining hands with the BJP, Balasaheb supported Congress candidates Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee for the President’s post,” Trivedi added.

Alliance, now a possibility. Coming back to the meeting between Raj Thackeray and Sonia Gandhi, it is being seen as the first step towards forging a formal alliance.

During the Lok Sabha election, the Nationalist Congress Party was keen to rope in the MNS. But fearing a backlash from its north Indian vote bank, a community which has been at loggerheads with the MNS, the Congress shot down the move.

But in the forthcoming assembly elections, joining hands with the MNS might prove congenial for the Congress, which is currently in near doldrums. It is believed that both leaders discussed a possible alliance in their 30-minute meeting.

Raj’s aggressive cadres and his own fiery oratory may help the Congress-NCP alliance to minimise the damage expected to be done by the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).

“This is a historic meeting. I am seeing the possibility of MNS and Congress joining hands against BJP,” Keertikumar Shinde, an author and MNS insider said. Shalini Thackeray, general secretary of the MNS, also said the meeting clearly hinted that a new course in politics was taking shape.

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