Senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar on Tuesday called for including the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in any opposition alliance of secular forces in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Emphasising that it was his "personal view", he said that including the MNS was imperative to prevent a split in the opposition votes and to ensure the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine in the state.
Speaking to the media, he pointed out that in the 2014 election, the MNS got over 100,000 votes although it contested a few Lok Sabha seats independently.
A former Deputy Chief Minister, Ajit Pawar is the nephew of NCP President Sharad Pawar, who enjoys a personal rapport with MNS chief Raj Thackeray.
Ajit Pawar's statement is significant since all opposition political parties have spurned overtures by the MNS to join their alliance, especially the Congress-NCP combine.
Their distrust stems from the 13-year-old party's violent agitations launched in 2008 and 2010 against the North Indian communities, followed by Raj Thackeray's visit to Gujarat in 2013 and then his support to the BJP and its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in 2014.
The Congress-NCP, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and others are apprehensive that an alliance with the MNS could seriously undermine their own support bases and benefit the BJP and Sena.
Countering this, Mr Pawar said there were many such instances in the past when alliances changed along with political situations as there were no permanent friends or enemies in politics.
He cited the examples of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who were earlier with the BJP-led NDA, and many others who later parted company and were now the strongest critics of the ruling dispensation.
"Even Raj Thackeray is now speaking a different language and is highly critical of Prime Minister Modi," Mr Pawar said.
On his part, Raj Thackeray has made serious attempts to dilute his "anti-north Indian" image and on December 2 last year attended a massive gathering of the Uttar Bhartiya Mahapanchayat Sangh.
He also took the opportunity of his son's wedding last month to invite the leaders of all major political parties including the Congress-NCP besides union ministers and Shiv Sena leaders.
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