Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Sunday took on actor Sonu Sood, saying that the opposition BJP had propped up the actor to show the Uddhav Thackeray government in poor light by offering help to migrant workers from north India stranded in Maharashtra.
"Sood is an actor whose profession is to deliver dialogues scripted by someone else and make a living out of it," Mr Raut said in his weekly column 'Rokhtokh' in the party's mouthpiece Saamana. "There are many people like Sood who would promote any political party if paid well," he said while obliquely referring to the "sting operation" ahead of the 2019 general elections where the actor allegedly had agreed to promote the BJP government at various platforms through his official social media accounts.
Strongly defending the state government, which also comprises the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, over its handling of the migrant crisis, Sanjay Raut said, "No other state could have treated migrant workers the way they have been taken care of by the Maharashtra government."
"However, to show the state government's work in poor light, Sonu Sood has been deliberately promoted. 'If anyone wants to go home, please contact me' was the appeal of the actor," Mr Raut wrote. "You do not need a screen all the time to show your acting skills as has been demonstrated by "Mahatma Sood"," Mr Raut said.
He said no wise man would believe in the actor suddenly developing sympathy for labourers and sending them back in large numbers.
The editorial comes after Sonu Sood arranged buses, flight for migrants stuck in Mumbai due to the lockdown and helped them return to their home states.
Mr Raut, who is the chief whip of the Shiv Sena in Parliament and the executive editor of Saamana, said, "The BJP has (politically) adopted Sonu Sood and tried to create an influence among the North Indian migrant workers".
"There is a person called Shankar Pawar, the head of Rashtriya Banjara Seva Sangh, who was seen standing behind Sonu Sood in various photographs. He has the huge system and network to send people home," Mr Raut said, questioning how the actor got permissions when several state governments were struggling to bring back their people.
"The plight of migrant workers also turned many against the Modi government for its handling of the coronavirus crisis," Mr Raut said, adding, it is necessary to find out whether the BJP put a mask of a social worker on Sonu Sood and used him to further its political designs.
People might soon hear Sonu Sood's name in PM Modi's "Mann Ki Baat" radio programme, Mr Raut said, adding, "Sonu Sood might even visit Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi as a star campaigner for the BJP."
However, NCP leader and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said Sonu Sood "has done good work" by helping the stranded migrants reach home. Mr Deshmukh from the NCP, which is a part of the state government, was reported by ANI as saying, "Actor Sonu Sood has done good work by sending a lot of migrant workers to their homes. I did not hear what Sanjay Raut sahab has said. We will appreciate whoever takes such good initiatives, be it Sonu Sood or anyone else."
(With inputs from PTI)