Uddhav's Favourite, BJP's Target: End of the Road for Sanjay Raut's 'Rok-Thok'?
As the Enforcement Directorate corners Sanjay Raut in a land scam case, should the Sena have kept him 'in check'?
While Raut was subsequently arrested and sent to ED custody till 4 August, the famous dialogue from the movie 'Pushpa,' that had taken the country by storm, defines the political persona that Sanjay Raut is.
Raut's stature within the Shiv Sena can be gauged by the fact that former chief minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray himself addressed the media in his support, a gesture that wasn't shown to many other party leaders facing probe by the central agencies.
Thackeray even met Raut's family at the latter's Mumbai residence, and said that he was "proud of his friend Sanjay."
Thackeray Loyalist – 'Moden Pan Vaaknar Nahi' Level
The son of a staunch Shiv Sanink Rajaram Raut, who was also the party’s representative in the Sena's union in a Mumbai-based company in the party's early days, Raut has been closely associated with the party for close to three decades with unquestionable loyalty to the Thackerays.
As a student, he started writing for Marmik, a cartoon weekly started by Bal Thackeray in 1960, which later became the party mouthpiece after the Shiv Sena was formed in 1966.
Bal Thackeray was introduced to Raut's writing prowess in the 1980s while he was a close confidante of Bal Thackeray's brother Shrikant. It was Balasaheb who recommended Raut for jobs at The Indian Express and the Marathi weekly Lokprabha in the 1980s. Raut was later appointed the executive editor of the new Sena mouthpiece Saamana in 1992, just three years after its launch.
Several pieces penned by Raut have reportedly been published by Saamana under Balasaheb's byline. Raut even drafted Raj Thackeray's resignation letter from the Shiv Sena back in 2005.
It was Raut who is believed to have heralded the formation of the MVA after the fallout with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019 and the crowning of Uddhav as the chief minister.
Through the two and a half years of Uddhav's tenure, it was Raut who spoke on his behalf on most of the decisions and was as big a face of the party as Uddhav or Aaditya Thackeray. Raut was the voice of 'Matoshree' that resonated in Delhi.
In the political circles, comments like ‘Uddhav's right-hand man,’ or ‘Raut's editorials speak Uddhav's language,’ etc are commonly used for Raut.
Raut's 'Rok-Thok' That Became His Downfall
The editorials titled 'Rok-Thok' in Saamana, written and published under Raut's watch, have always been considered to be the party's stand on issues.
The Sena leadership is often accused of giving a free hand to Raut in party politics as well as Saamana editorials.
The editorials, known to not use language that's parliamentary or civil on several occasions, have kept the ‘Balasaheb-style’ of editorials intact for years. However, the editorials not just reflect the party's stand, but also Raut's own persona.
Raut's choice of words in media briefings was questioned by many, including several within the party, until it reached a breaking point and was cited as one of the prime reasons behind the rebellion within the Shiv Sena and the fall of the MVA government.
Rebel Shiv Sena MLAs led by now CM Eknath Shinde last month called Raut the "middleman" who "rudely" kept Thackeray away from them, created a wider divide between the Centre and the state than was politically acceptable with his remarks, and steered the Thackerays away from the ground reality and demands of Shiv Sena MLAs and party workers.
Even while they were in alliance, it was Raut who majorly took potshots at the BJP several times, leading to the BJP asking the Sena to keep him "in check."
Under Raut's watch, the Shiv Sena kept attacking the BJP in the Saamana editorials relentlessly between 2014 and 2019, as the party played second fiddle to the Devendra Fadnavis-led government. While the takes were touted by the Sena as "responsible criticism of its own ally," the statements only irked the BJP more and added to the list of politicians who disliked Raut.
The Cost of Proximity With Pawar
In political circles, Raut has always been seen to be close to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and its chief Sharad Pawar than the BJP, another factor that rebel leaders led by Shinde cited during the rebellion against Uddhav.
In 2008, Raut had reportedly tried to forge an alliance between the Sena and the NCP for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, but it did not go through.
As the Eknath Shinde faction allied with the BJP and formed the government on 30 June, the rebels accused Raut of being in cahoots with Pawar to destroy the Shiv Sena. Many of them said that it was the blind faith that Uddhav had instilled in Raut which Pawar was exploiting to weaken the Shiv Sena and strengthen the NCP.
Many also blamed Uddhav for not giving enough importance to his own MLAs and paying more heed to Pawar.
The Long List of Controversies
Raut seldom held his tongue while speaking his mind, and several times, unacceptably so. Several of his statements have also left the party red-faced.
In 2009, Raut faced flak for a Saamana editorial that accused the Maharashtrians of stabbing the Shiv Sena in the back after the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) bagged several seats of the Sena in the Assembly elections. In 2014, Raut's editorial on Gujarati speakers led the Shiv Sena to briefly strip him off the position of party spokesperson.
In an interview to ABP Majha, Raut in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic had said that the WHO is "like the CBI" and that the global healthcare body is just "people gathered from here and there." He had also said that he always takes his medicines from compounders as "they know more than doctors."
In April 2015, Raut courted controversy after he said that the voting rights of Muslims should be revoked as they are merely being used as vote banks by parties and the community is not able to make progress.
One of Raut's biggest controversies of the recent past was his tiff with Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut in 2020 after the latter said that Mumbai had become like Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) under the Thackeray rule.
Raut lashed out at Ranaut while using a cuss word, leading to severe backlash and condemnation. The tiff escalated to a part of Ranaut's Mumbai home being demolished by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) citing "illegal construction." However, the Thackeray leadership stood by Raut and elevated him as the national spokesperson amid the row.
The Patra Chawl Case
Raut has been arrested in a case that concerns the Patra Chawl Development project that has been underway in Mumbai's Goregaon for over a decade.
The ED has alleged a scam of a whopping Rs 1,039.79 crore in the project, and part of the mammoth account was allegedly traced back to properties owned by Sanjay Raut's wife, Varsha Raut.
The Shiv Sena, until the recent split in the party, has staunchly stood by Raut through every controversy.
For many, Raut's arrest in the case was anticipated, with the Sena maintaining the narrative that he is being targeted by the BJP to settle scores.
Considering the fate of other MVA ministers and leaders under the ED scanner, including some as tall as NCP's Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh, Raut's political career is clearly in jeopardy. In the years of association with the Shiv Sena, Raut will always be remembered as the man who made a Thackeray the chief minister of Maharashtra, but it remains to be seen as to how long will the party be able to shield him.
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