A day after his release from Arthur Road prison in Mumbai, senior Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut surprised everyone on Thursday when he unusually praised Devendra Fadnavis and the Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra government.
“A new government has been formed in Maharashtra, I welcome some of their good decisions. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis made some good decisions. We feel that the state is headed by Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis and he is leading the state,” he told reporters, adding that he will meet Fadnavis in “2-4 days related to people’s work.”
“I will not criticize or contradict anyone, be it central authorities or the government. My party and I have suffered. We will not oppose anyone just to resist. If they have done a good job, we will appreciate and welcome them,” he added.
The hardliner, who is a staunch BJP critic, was released on bail three months after his arrest on Wednesday in an alleged money laundering case related to a housing project in suburban Goregaon. Shortly after his release, he visited Siddhivinayak Temple, a Hanuman Temple in south Mumbai, and the Bal Thackeray Monument in Shivaji Park.
Raut’s statements on Thursday left many wondering whether it was an attempt at reconciliation with the BJP, or a strategic move to avoid confrontation with the Center, as his case is still open.
Despite this, his loyalty to Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena faction is evident when he visited the former CM and his son Aaditya Thackeray himself on Thursday. Speaking to the media, Raut said the former prime minister stood by his relatives while he was in prison and that “every second” of his life was devoted to the Sena.
The Rajya Sabha member claimed that his arrest was political and that such kind of “vendetta politics” had not been seen in the country before. However, he refrained from accusing the central authorities. “I will not blame any central authority,” he said.
Speaking to reporters, Raut said the Shiv Sena faction led by Uddhav Thackeray was the “real” party founded by the late Bal Thackeray. He said the uprising in the party led by Eknath Shindi, which led to a government change in June, was temporary.
‘Negotiate’ with BJP?
Meanwhile, sources said Raut’s shift in stance indicated some sort of “negotiations between him and the BJP,” according to a report by Indian Express.
“Raut has been in prison for over 100 days. He obviously does not want to be in that atmosphere, even though the court has made remarks in his favor. It seems his strategy is to avoid a confrontation between him and the BJP or with the Shinde faction while his case is still pending,” a leader said, according to the report.
However, the Eknath Shinde-led faction believes the move is standing in the way of Raut’s own “personal agenda” and questions his relationship with Thackeray.
“On the one hand, Uddhav Thackeray criticizes the BJP and claims that the central agencies are targeting opposition parties. Then there is Raut who praises Fadnavis. This shows that something is not right between them,” said Kiran Pawaskar, the spokesman for Eknath Shinde-led Babasahebanchi Shiv Sena, according to the report.
“Raut may be trying to avoid confrontation to gain some time to analyze the situation before making his first move. This way he has time to gauge what happened while he was in prison. Confuse everyone and then make a move when the opposition has dropped its defenses could also be his strategy,” another senior party leader told the Indian Express.
Amid all this, Raut’s support for the Thackerays and vice versa was evident. “The saffron flag that has fluttered on the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) for the past 30 to 35 years will continue to exist. Those who dare to touch it will be reduced to ashes with the ‘maashal’ (symbol of the burning torch of the Uddhav Thackeray faction),” he told reporters on Thursday.
Commenting on Raut’s release, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and former minister Aaditya Thackeray had said: “The tiger is back. He was put in jail, but he didn’t flee the way 40 “traitors” fled (a reference to rebel Sena MLAs).”
(With input from agencies)
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