"There is no government in Maharashtra, there is a corrupt gang of mafias. There are some who are about to go to jail, there are some who are out on bail. How can such people run a government? They are running the government like mafias do," said Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut while speaking about the chaos that Maharashtra politics has been for the past few years.
The state government now comprises of a breakaway faction of both the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), with the tallest leaders Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar having split their respective parties and joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a span of one year.
While the Sena split has been dealt with by the Election Commission, the NCP factions are to make a case before the poll body on 17 August.
What's significantly weak now is the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance. With less than a year left for Lok Sabha and a little more than a year for the Assembly elections, speculations about NCP supremo Sharad Pawar giving in to his nephew's demands are rife. Raut, however, thinks otherwise.
In a conversation on 'Badi Badi Baatein!', Raut spoke at length about the Maharashtra politics, the events following the 2019 elections, the INDIA alliance, and his changed perspective towards Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Welcome to The Quint and Quint Hindi. Welcome to 'Badi Badi Baatein!' This term can be interpreted in a lot of ways. There are big developments taking place and tall claims being made. How do you see this term politically?
We are not the ones who make tall claims. We claim small and work for bigger things. Those making tall claims are ruling the country right now. They should stop making tall claims and actually do something. There were people like Dr Manmohan Singh, Lal Bahadur Shastri, PV Narasimha Rao, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
They talked less but achieved big things. Those sitting in power for almost 10 years should learn from them. But that's alright, to each their own. When our government comes to power in 2024, our mantra will be to talk less and work more.
So, you are confident that the BJP government at the Centre will fall in 2024?
It's not about a fall. Governments just don't fall like that while they are functioning. We will democratically defeat them in elections. The INDIA alliance has been formed. We have faith in the democratic soul of India.
Till date, the Shiv Sena is accused of abandoning Hindutva ideology. When the INDIA alliance met in Bangalore, the NDA had a meeting in Delhi too. PM Narendra Modi in that meeting also named Balasaheb Thackeray as one of the tallest leaders of the NDA.
Definitely. We were the face of Hindutva. We separated from the BJP, not from Hindutva. If BJP thinks it can claim monopoly on Hindutva, they are wrong. Our ideology is with us. Hindutva does not mean riots in Manipur and Haryana and inciting and killing people before elections. That is not our idea of Hindutva.
Do you think it is an attempt by the BJP to claim Bal Thackeray's legacy?
Nobody can claim a legacy like that. The BJP could not claim the legacy of even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, how will it claim Balasaheb's?
Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis recently made many claims in an interview. He claimed that Shiv Sena leaders did not take their calls when the alliance with the BJP broke in 2019. He said that it was not officially conveyed to them that the the alliance has broken. Many claims are made about what happened in 2019. Would you like to tell what all happened then?
The BJP wanted to break the alliance since 2014. In 2014, they thought that the Shiv Sena will be destroyed without an alliance but that did not happen. Despite a Modi 'storm' as was being claimed, the Shiv Sena got 64 seats. We then formed a post-poll alliance. For the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP proposed that we contest together. Amit Shah and several other BJP leaders met Uddhav Thackeray and other Shiv Sena leaders at Matoshree.
After the talks, there was a press conference at hotel Blue Sea in Worli. That press conference can be found on YouTube.
Devendra Fadnavis, in the presence of Amit Shah, said that all elections will be contested in alliance. Be it Assembly or any other election, we were promised a 50-50 power sharing formula. What does that mean? But when the elections were over, the BJP denied any such promise and they started refuting our claims. They accused Uddhav ji of lying and claimed that no such talks took place. What could we do? If they were going to betray us in such a manner, we had no other choice.
They say that you defied the people's mandate.
What was the people's mandate?
The mandate for a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.
The BJP talking about people's mandate is laughable. What happened in Madhya Pradesh? Did the BJP have the people's mandate? The way Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalists joined the BJP, was that the people's mandate? You inducted NCP leaders in the cabinet who you called 'naturally corrupt' just four days prior to that. Is that the people's mandate? If you can play politics, so can we.
You spoke of the NCP split. Reports suggest that the two factions might eventually merge. There are also reports of Jayant Patil joining Ajit Pawar's faction. If that happens, how do you see the MVA's future?
Talking about the MVA - breaking parties, breaking families, pressurising MLAs, threatening them with central agencies - this is the gist of the BJP's politics. I have been a victim of that too. So, let them use all their strength.
You have broken Sharad Pawar's MLAs, good for you. You broke Shiv Sena's MLAs, I congratulate you. But Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray are still strong enough to take to streets and rebuild the parties and take on Maharashtra and Delhi in 2024.
So, you are confident that Sharad Pawar ji will be steadfast with the MVA?
Definitely, I am fully confident of that.
The Shiv Sena faced a split too. There are several reports claiming discontent within the MLAs of Eknath Shinde's party...
Whether they are discontented or not, our doors are closed for them.
Has anybody approached you?
Many have but we will not take them back. Taking them back would mean disloyalty with the people of Maharashtra.
When the Shiv Sena split, we heard Uddhav Thackeray ji who said he will reincarnate the party. Lots of efforts are being taken for that...
The efforts are on. And it's not really reincarnation. The party is on the ground. Some MLAs and some MPs have left. They are not the party, the party is on the ground. A party is not what's on paper.
Are there challenges in rebuilding the cadre and the party?
Those are there. Shiv Sena has always been a product of struggle. We are not seeing this kind of a challenge for the first time. Every party has to go through that struggle.
There have been several communal riots in Maharashtra in the past few months - Akola, Aurangabad, Kolhapur, etc. There have been lots of right-wing rallies. One such rally was held in Mumbai in the presence of BJP leaders. Do you think there is an attempt to change the social fabric of Maharashtra?
Definitely. There is an attempt but it will not be successful. We have seen lots of attempts like these. But the people see through them now and understand everything. These attempts won't be successful.
How would you rate the Shinde-Fadnavis-Pawar government of Maharashtra?
There is no government in Maharashtra, there is a corrupt gang of mafias. There are some who are about to go to jail, there are some who are out on bail. How can such people run the government?
They are running the government like mafias do. They just want to distribute and collect money and strengthen their government with that money.
Speaking of INDIA alliance - it has many of the Shiv Sena's former opponents like the Congress, IUML, etc. Are all parties willing to make ideological compromises?
Everybody will have to make compromises. If we want to defeat the ongoing dictatorship in the country, all will have to make compromises. We have made them, the Congress , NCP, everybody will have to. Only then will INDIA be made.
The Shiv Sena (UBT) is hosting a meet of the INDIA alliance in Mumbai. What are your expectations from it?
Mumbai has political significance and Uddhav Thackeray will host it.
There are a few things on the agenda like who will be the convener of INDIA alliance, the common minimum programme, and the future strategy. These are the three main agendas. We might also discuss the seat sharing formula.
Rahul Gandhi recently returned to the Parliament. You saw him in the Opposition and you now see him in an alliance. Has your perspective changed towards him through the years?
There were attempts made to tarnish Rahul Gandhi's image since before 2014. He has tried to change the perception towards him. When he started the Bharat Jodo Yatra, people questioned if he will be able to march 4,000 kms.
But he marched from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Rahul saw the country and the country saw Rahul. Rahul did not get tired cowed down. I think Rahul was reborn with the Bharat Jodo Yatra as the new leader of the country. This Rahul Gandhi will play a pivotal role in defeating the Modi government in 2024.
People want to hear Rahul Gandhi today. They don't switch TV channels when he speaks. Now, they switch channels when PM Modi speaks now. People listen to 'Rahul ki Baat'. The country will see this change.
As an MP, what according to you is the solution to the Manipur crisis?
Does the Prime Minister and the government want a solution to Manipur? If they do, the PM would have visited for at least two days, the Home Minister would have taken timely action, and the chief minister would have been sacked.
They would have dismissed the government and brought in President's Rule to restore law and order. But none of that happened and a failed chief minister is being protected. That is what made the situation worse.
On what issues does the MVA plan to challenge the BJP government in Maharashtra in 2024?
There is no need to bring up issues. The issue will just be one - the way they treated the Shiv Sena and the NCP. You will see the people's anger in ballot boxes and EVMs.
And for the INDIA alliance?
To remove this dictatorship. Everybody promises food, clothing, and shelter, but what did we actually get? Riots? Hindu-Muslim enmity? Food, clothing, and shelter will remain the major issues of the country. Every government that comes to power will have to take them up. The government is not doing any favour. As the government, you have to tackle these problems and as the Opposition, we have to raise them.