Power of Pawar: Who’s the brain behind Raj Thackeray’s speeches against Modi?

Maharashtra is abuzz with talks of a secret pact between the two NCP and MNS chiefs

ByPrateek Goyal
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Power of Pawar: Who’s the brain behind Raj Thackeray’s speeches against Modi?
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As the Lok Sabha polls complete three phases, changes in political scenarios are visible everywhere. In Maharashtra, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principle target is Nationalist Congress Party Chief Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Chief Raj Thackeray’s speeches are directed against Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Amit Shah.

Although the MNS hasn’t fielded any candidate in these elections, Raj Thackeray is holding rallies in various cities where he’s directly attacking the PM and Shah through Power Point presentations and videos. While Modi is taking on Pawar in all his rallies in the state, the NCP chief is also believed to be the brain behind Raj Thackeray’s speeches.

No leader in Maharashtra matches the political stature of Pawar today. He is respected across party lines for his political acumen both at the state and national levels. Modi’s pinpointed attacks on Pawar prove that the latter is not only the biggest player in Maharashtra politics, but also had a key role in stitching together the grand alliance of Opposition parties against the BJP at the national level. Moreover, he is the man behind the planning that goes into Raj Thackeray’s speeches.

Senior political analyst Kumar Saptarshi says Pawar hailed from a middle-class, anti-Congress family. His mother Sharada Pawar was a leader of Peasants Political Party. She was a very progressive woman, educated at Sharada Ashram in Pandita Kedgaon, which was established by legendary social worker Pandita Ramabai. “Sharada was against the feudal Maratha practices and that’s what she taught her children. His mother had a huge influence on Pawar’s mind and that’s how he grew up to be a progressive, anti-feudal leader,” Saptarshi said.

Pawar’s political career began with the Youth Congress. Senior Congress leader Yashwantrao Chavan — the first chief minister of Maharashtra who later became Union home minister and India’s fifth deputy prime minister — recognised Pawar’s capabilities and helped him grow in state politics. Pawar was first elected as a member of legislative Assembly in 1967 and he never looked back. Saptarshi says, “Sharad Pawar was very close to Yashwantrao Chavan and under his wings he not only worked on various government positions but also became a sharp player of politics.”

“Since then, he has been the centre of politics in the country. His political understanding is remarkable and that’s the reason for his stature in the state and the country,” Saptarshi said.

According to him, Modi attacks Pawar in his speeches because he knows that no leader is bigger than him in Maharashtra right now. He also knows that it is Pawar who has cobbled together the grand alliance of Opposition parties in the current elections.

Pawar brought all those leaders together who wanted to fight against Modi and he also convinced Congress chief Rahul Gandhi that the BJP can be defeated by Opposition parties coming together. That’s the reason why the Congress agreed to offer chief ministership to Janata Dal-Secular’s H D Kumaraswamy in Karnataka.

Saptarshi says Pawar is the trouble-shooter within the grand alliance and everyone pays heed to his advice. Saptarshi, who knows Pawar closely, says, “Pawar has no interest in becoming the PM now but he surely wants a better political future for his daughter Supriya Sule.” On Raj Thackeray’s relations with Pawar, Saptarshi says, “Since Raj Thackeray has interviewed Pawar (in Pune), people think that there’s been a secret political pact between the two and they suspect Pawar’s hand behind Thackeray’s attacks against Modi and Shah.”

“In fact, Pawar is providing covering fire to Raj Thackeray and if there’s even the slightest of doubts in people’s minds regarding the government, Thackeray’s speeches make them more intense. “Right now, Thackeray is working on making his speeches more and more factual so that he can convert it into votes,” Saptarshi said.

Another political analyst Suhas Kulkarni says, “Raj Thackeray is actually aiming at upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra through his speeches. People are influenced by his simple and witty speeches. Moreover, Congress-NCP alone cannot challenge BJP-Shiv Sena in Maharashtra as a big section of people is against the former alliance.”

“The leadership of both these parties (Congress and NCP) is facing people’s ire and that’s why they cannot be a challenge to BJP-Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray is trying to fill the gap and that’s why he is refraining from talking about Marathi pride or speaking against Muslims in his speeches,” Kulkarni says.

He adds, “If Raj Thackeray had candidates in the electoral fray, they couldn’t have won despite his charged speeches as his party has hardly any presence outside Mumbai, Thane and neighbouring areas. However, he wants to be visible in the entire state and that’s why he’s holding these rallies which may benefit Congress-NCP.”

On Modi and Pawar pulling each other up in their rallies, Kulkarni says, “Whom will PM Modi attack other than Pawar? There’s no leader bigger than him in Maharashtra right now. Second, there’s an anti-Pawar wave in Maharashtra right now and Modi wants to cash in on it. People are still against Congress and NCP in Maharashtra, and NCP has bigger opposition.”

Kulkarni says, “It can be said that Pawar is behind Thackeray’s speeches. Earlier there were talks of giving two seats in Mumbai to MNS. However, the Congress backed out fearing losses in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar due to Thackeray’s anti-North Indian image.”

Author Keshav Waghmare, who has a good understanding of Maharashtra politics, says, “Right now there are many facets of politics in Maharashtra. There are many seats where BJP and NCP have an understanding, because of their intent to harm Shiv Sena and Congress respectively.”

“First time, the NCP will win at least nine seats. Buldhana, Bhandara, Kolhapur, Satara, Baramati, Shirur, Mawal, Osmanabad and Parbhani will go to NCP. It is a direct contest with Shiv Sena in all these seats. If Modi wins, Pawar will definitely support him. This is the politics behind the curtain, notwithstanding Modi’s attacks on Pawar.”

On Raj Thacekray’s rallies, Waghmare says, “Pawar and Thackeray had planned these rallies in advance. This was actually for the state elections. Thackeray’s speeches are a rehearsal of Assembly election campaign.

“Pawar and Thackeray are helping each other according to this plan. These speeches will help NCP more than the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls. By attacking Modi, Thackeray is also defending Pawar and improving his own image too for the upcoming state elections.”

Senior political editor of Marathi daily Sakal, Yogesh Kute, says, “Pawar holds the strings of whatever politics is going on the country against the BJP and Modi. His political stature is so big that if Modi attacks any other leader it won’t be as effective. That’s why Modi is not speaking about leaders like Ashok Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde since these leaders have not much political life left. It is Pawar who has brought together Congress and NCP in Maharashtra and other opposition parties in the country.”

About Thackeray’s speeches, Kute says, “Pawar is behind Thackeray’s rallies. Earlier, Thackeray supported Modi. Pawar has a role in pitting him against Modi. Secondly, the biggest political enemy of MNS is Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray may have been attacking Modi and Shah in his speeches but his actual target is Shiv Sena. He knows that his speech won’t be as influential if he takes Shiv Sena’s name. But Shiv Sena has candidates in six out of 10 places where Thackeray holds his rallies.”

Kute says that Raj Thackeray’s speeches are being liked by parties opposing Modi and they’re happy that they’ve got a crowd-gatherer in the form of Thackeray who’s fulfilling their objective by speaking against Modi.   

“However, MNS workers will never vote for the Congress and it would be difficult for them to vote for other anti-BJP parties too. So they may vote for the Shiv Sena,” says Kute.

Raj Thackeray’s speeches and their significance

There’s no doubt that Thackeray is a formidable speaker and he knows how to keep his audience engaged. His earlier speeches focussed mainly on Maharashtrians vs outsiders and he was accused of spreading hatred against people of other states. However, since he has begun attacking Modi in his speeches, he is avoiding making such remarks.

His addresses are equipped with Power Point presentations and by showing videos of PM Modi, he is attacking him over his past remarks. Thackeray’s oft-repeated phrase ‘E lava re to video [Hey, show that video]’ has gone viral on social media. He shows videos of Modi’s old and new speeches and then takes a swipe at the PM in his own characteristic style, which is reminiscent of that of his uncle Bal Thackeray.

On Thursday, at his rally in Pune’s Khadakwasla, Thackeray showed video of the Una incident in which seven Dalit youth were tied to an SUV and flagged for allegedly skinning a cow. Right after that he showed an interview of Modi where he was saying his friends exported beef. After showing these two videos, Thackeray took on Modi saying, “While those who skin a dead cow are flogged in Gujarat over false allegations of cow slaughter, Modi’s Jain friends export beef.”

He said while Modi was in Opposition he said something else and now he talks differently while in power. Here, he also showed a video of Modi’s interview (by Prasoon Joshi) in London where the PM was saying, “An incident of rape with a little girl is horrifying. Will we now say that these many rapes happened under your government and these many under ours? A rape is a rape. How can such a brutality with a daughter be tolerated?”

Right after this video Thackeray showed clips of Modi’s speeches from 2014 where he is saying ‘remember Nirbhaya when you go to vote. She will make you remember every sister and daughter of Delhi and you will vote for lotus (BJP’s election symbol)’. Thackeray then said that while Modi calls it politicisation of rapes now, he was seeking votes in the name of Nirbhaya then.

He also showed a power point presentation to assert that incidents of rape have increased under the Modi government, and said, “If that’s what we were to get, why was the previous government bad?” He also cornered Modi on scams by Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi and mentioned the press conference by four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court last year.

Regarding the Statue of Unity, Thackeray said, “Rs 3,000-4,000 crore were spent on Sardar Patel’s statue but there are no jobs for youth. He (Modi) asked people to boycott Chinese goods after the Doklam confrontation and then got the statue made in China.” He also showed a video of Modi where he is saying ‘if death of a farmer is a poll issue why not the death of a soldier?’

“Look how much respect he has for soldiers. He should be ashamed of politicising martyrdom of security personnel,” Thackeray said. He took potshots at the PM by saying that he goes to meet his mother once in a year and yet takes the media with him. Why doesn’t he let his mother stay with him at the prime minister’s residence? Thackeray elicited applause on his remark that Marathi people have created a nice environment in Maharashtra and that’s why Gujaratis come here for business.

He appealed to people that Modi and Shah should not return to power otherwise they will enslave us. Thackeray began speaking against Modi since Gudi Padwa (Marathi New Year). His first speech was in Shivaji Park, Mumbai, on the occasion of Marathi New Year on April 6.

After that he held rallies in places like Ichalkaranji, Satara, Solapur, Nanded and Pune, and this will continue throughout the polls. Though Thackeray opposes Modi, he never appeals to vote for a particular party. The BJP has complained to the Election Commission against his speech in Nandend on April 12. Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawade appealed to the Chief Election Commissioner that expenses incurred on Thackeray’s Nanded rally should be counted in the account of former Maharashtra CM and Congress MP Ashok Chavan.

However, the Collector’s probe report said that Thackeray has not appealed to vote for a particular party in his speech. It is another matter that while Thackeray never stops calling Modi a dictator, he has also issued a farmaan to MNS workers that if someone writes against their party chief on social media, the person should be ‘taught a lesson’.

When a person from Ghatkopar commented on Thackeray’s April 6 speech on Facebook, MNS workers landed at his home, thrashed him in front of his family and made him do 50 sit-ups. While his family begged for mercy, the MNS workers could not do away with their hooliganism.

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