The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong opens door to Thackeray nephew
Raj Thackeray

Mumbai, Nov. 26: The Congress today formally invited Shiv Sena leader Raj Thackeray into its fold, sending tremors through the Sena to prepare for the final blow.

Addressing a news conference, former Sena mascot Sanjay Nirupam, now Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson, said his party is ready to accept Raj if he is willing to give up on Sena ideology.

“If he accepts the offer and ideology of Sonia Gandhi, we will send the matter to the high command for acceptance,” Nirupam said.

Raj, whose departure will be the nail in the coffin for the Sena, has not made any statement. But this strengthens widespread reports that Raj, the nephew of Bal Thackeray and assumed to be his heir till son Uddhav was promoted as the chief, is ready to leave his family party.

The party has hit an all-time low with its recent losses in the Maharashtra bypolls, in which the Sena lost its fiefdom Malwan to one of its rebel leaders, Narayan Rane, who has also joined the Congress and was close to Raj.

There are also reports that the Congress has sent out feelers to Manohar Joshi, another Sena heavyweight close to Raj, who is considered the most charismatic leader in the Sena after Thackeray.

A Congress leader said that his party was in constant touch with Raj over the matter. “It is up to him now to decide whether he wants to join the party or not,” Nirupam said.

The spokesperson said since the Sena was going through its hardest time now, the Congress would like to take advantage of that.

Nirupam said the Congress would have no problem in accommodating someone with the Sena’s ideology, as it had already accommodated him and Rane.

Many Sena workers who support Raj feel that he should take over from cousin Uddhav, the Sena working president.

There is a feeling that the party has suffered because Uddhav is not in touch with ground realities.

The rift between Raj and Uddhav was apparent during campaigning for the recent elections. Raj was absent from party meetings and returned early to Mumbai from Malwan, which Thackeray and Uddhav visited later.

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