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Raj takes on Sena, backs Modi

- MNS turns down Gadkari request, to contest eight Lok Sabha seats
Raj Thackeray in Mumbai on Sunday. (Fotocorp)

Mumbai, March 9: Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena today announced its decision to fight the general election, ignoring a request from top BJP leaders to sit it out.

In a canny political move, however, the MNS went on to express support for the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate, Narendra Modi.

“We will contest the Lok Sabha election. I will show my party’s strength during the election. We will support Narendra Modi for the PM’s post. Modi should become the Prime Minister of the country,” Raj said at the MNS’s eighth foundation day celebrations.

Many MNS workers had feared that Raj would give in to the BJP’s demand after its former chief, Nitin Gadkari, met him at a five-star hotel about 10 days ago.

BJP leaders today officially expressed anger at Raj’s move.

“We had requested him to desist from splitting NDA votes by putting up candidates in the election. In 2009, he had put up 12 candidates who polled over a lakh each. It had a huge impact on the NDA as votes were divided and the Congress-NCP combine got the advantage of this and won,” BJP leader Ashish Shelar told The Telegraph.

“But he seems to have done his own thing — he has even put up a candidate against us. So, though he is welcome to support Modi, we are left with no choice but to fight him where he puts up candidates against us or our allies.”

Privately, however, most BJP leaders welcomed the move given the party’s uneasy relations with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who is Raj’s estranged cousin and rival.

Uddhav and Modi’s personal dislike for each other is reported to have got the state BJP rethinking its alliance with the Sena.

MNS activists are happy with Raj’s move. “It killed two birds with the same stone. First, it sent a clear message to the BJP that though MNS is extending a hand of friendship by supporting Modi’s prime ministerial aspirations, it is an independent party that will make its own decisions,” an MNS leader said.

“Second, by announcing his decision to put up candidates mostly against the Shiv Sena, Rajsaheb has trained his guns directly at Uddhav Thackeray.”

Raj announced a list of seven candidates, six of whom will directly take on the Sena and one the BJP.

In Mumbai South, the MNS’s Bala Nandgaonkar will take on Sena’s Arvind Sawant. The Congress’s Milind Deora and AAP’s Meera Sanyal are the other candidates.

In Mumbai South-Central, the MNS’s Aditya Shirodkar will contest against Sena’s Rahul Shewale.

In Mumbai Northwest, actor-director Mahesh Manjrekar is the MNS nominee against Sena veteran Gajanan Kirtikar, Congress MP Gurudas Kamat and Mayank Gandhi of the AAP.

In Kalyan-Dombivli, MNS’s Rajiv Patil will contest against Sena’s Shrikant Shinde.

The MNS has skipped the Mumbai Northeast, which is a BJP seat.

There are indications the party may field MLA Pravin Darekar or his brother, corporator Prakash Darekar, from Mumbai North, from where the BJP’s Gopal Shetty or Ashish Shelar may take on Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam, sources said.