The combined Opposition in Maharashtra has rallied behind Raj Thackeray after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). His party, meanwhile, is planning to put up a show of strength on August 22 with MNS workers planning to take a march from Raj Thackeray’s residence in Dadar till the ED office on the day Thackeray presents himself before ED officials.
Miffed at the ED notice to their party chief, MNS workers had announced a bandh in Thane district even as some MNS leaders had warned the public to step out on the streets of Mumbai on August 22 only if required.
“If such notices are sent to our leader there are many followers who live Raj Thackeray who can do anything. This is what history has suggested in the past as well. There can be a spontaneous reaction. People should step out of their homes on August 22 only if there is something really important to take care of,” MNS leader Abhijeet Pande had said on Monday afternoon.
The party’s Thane wing had subsequently called for a bandh in Thane city on August 22. However, the party decide to call off the bandh later.
MNS leaders claimed that the decision to withdraw the bandh was taken after Raj Thackeray directed his cadre to ensure that the public was not inconvenienced.
“Our president has asked us to ensure that the we do not do anything that would cause inconvenience to the public and hence we are taking back the call for the bandh,” MNS Thane Chief Avinash Jadhav said.
An ED notice dated August 16 has been issued to Raj Thackeray asking him to present himself before Rana Banerjee, Assistant Director, ED, on August 22.
The entire Opposition in the state has rallied behind Raj Thackeray claiming that the notice issued to him reflected the vendetta politics of the BJP government.
“The ED notice issued to Raj Thackeray is a deliberate action by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The two are running the government in a dictatorial manner, tearing down democracy. Agencies like the ED, CBI and Income-Tax are being let loose on anyone who criticises the wrong policies of this government,” Maharashtra Congress president Balasaheb Thorat said.
The NCP also came out in support of Raj Thackeray with party leader Vidya Chavan holding a meeting with the MNS chief at his Dadar residence.
“Raj Thackeray had raised questions against this government in the Lok Sabha elections. This notice has been issued to instill fear in people who take on the government. If the ruling party targets its opponents this way then it is the responsibility of all Opposition parties to stand in solidarity with each other,” Mumbai NCP president Nawab Malik said.
While Raj Thackeray choose not to make a public statement, his wife Sharmila said the family had nothing to fear and that the notice had been issued to pressure him, who had been speaking against the government. “This is being done to pressure my husband. However, he is not the type to get scared. With elections around the corner this is an attempt to tie him down. We will, however, attend the inquiry with all the requisite documents as we have nothing to hide,” Sharmila said. She claimed the case pertained to 2008 and the Thackerays had withdrawn themselves from the deal a long time back.
The MNS top brass will meet in Mumbai on Tuesday to chart the party’s future course of action. The party’s Thane unit, meanwhile, has called for a bandh on August 22 in Thane city. “PM Modi is the Hitler of new India. Over the past five-six years not a single BJP leader has been investigated by the ED. We are not afraid of such tactics and we will fight against this dictatorship,” MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande said.
The BJP, meanwhile, took a swipe at Raj Thackeray with senior BJP leader and minister Vinod Tawde asking him to face the inquiry. “If there is no wrongdoing then no one should have any fear of facing the agencies,” Tawde said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the BJP had no role to play in the serving of the notice to Raj Thackeray. “I can’t say anything on the notice issued by the ED to Raj. I do not know the reason why the notice was issued. The ED is an independent organisation and the BJP has no control over it,” Fadnavis said.
The ED is presently probing IL&FS group’s loan and equity investment on charges of money laundering. The group had invested Rs 860 crore in Kohinoor CTNL, a company founded by former Maharashtra CM Manohar Joshi’s son Unmesh Joshi, which is building a skyscraper in central Mumbai.
IL&FS had invested Rs 225 crore in the company but had surrendered its share in 2008 at less than half the cost. After that IL&FS had extended further loans to Kohinoor, which it had failed to repay.
In 2005, Joshi’s son along with IL&FS and Raj Thackeray-owned Matoshree Construction jointly bid for the NTC’s Kohinoor Mill, buying the 4.8-acre property for Rs 421 crore.
Raj Thackeray had subsequently exited the consortium in 2008. The ED had earlier this month recorded the statements of senior officials of Kohinoor in the case.
Raj Thackeray, a one-time avid supporter of Modi, has over the years had a fall-out with the BJP since it came to power in 2014. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Raj Thackeray had been increasingly critical of the BJP.
Meanwhile, Unmesh Joshi, who was also served a similar notice, was questioned by ED officials for over six hours at their office in Mumbai. The ED is likely to question Joshi further on Tuesday. “I have received a notice and have come to present myself to ED officials. I have not received any questionnaire from the ED but I will fully co-operate with the agency,” Joshi said on Monday.