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Dirty politics is not our DNA. That’s why we have the people’s goodwill and support with us: Aaditya Thackeray at Idea Exchange

Shiv Sena leader and Thackeray scion Aaditya Thackeray on Eknath Shinde’s betrayal, the need for governance over politics, working trouble-free with the Congress-NCP combine and Vedanta Foxconn moving to Gujarat. The session was moderated by Eeshanpriya MS, Special Correspondent

Aaditya Thackeray, Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde, Aaditya Thackeray at Express Idea Exchange, Dussehra rally, Uddhav Thackeray, Narendra Modi, Vedanta Foxconn, Amit Shah, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shivaji Park Dussehra rally, Mumbai news, Mumbai city news, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Maharashtra government, India news, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsIn the family, be it my grandfather, father or me, the DNA is to trust the person you’re working with. These are people with whom we’ve worked closely for years. But they had selfish motives: Shiv Sena leader and Thackeray scion Aaditya Thackeray. Illustration: Suvajit Dey

Eeshanpriya MS: Would you say the tension within Shiv Sena has eased after its Dussehra rally?

Even before the rally, there was no tension because traditionally, it has always been held at Shivaji Park and that’s why it’s called a Shivtirtha. Besides, why stress if you’ve done no wrong? However, there was a different energy. I remember meeting a colleague at a restaurant at BKC (Bandra-Kurla complex) during lunch a day before the rally and a few of its staff members said they would attend. I joked if they were going to BKC or Shivaji Park. They said, “Of course, there’s only one Dussehra rally and that’s at Shivaji Park.” The next day, the ground had filled up ahead of schedule. Most people had come without any of us arranging logistics. Looking at the betrayal, I think people displayed their vengeance by coming out and giving their support, strength and love. I think that was very crucial.

Sandeep Singh: Your father’s (Uddhav Thackeray’s) speech was more about bashing the BJP, RSS, Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What’s the strategy?

Much of the speech was on national issues because the Dussehra rally is almost like a State of the Union address for the Shiv Sena. It’s our annual gathering where we send out a message to Sainiks on the party’s thought process and political line. My father clearly defined what Shiv Sena’s Hindutva means, which is inclusive and takes everyone along. He asked pertinent questions on women’s  safety too.

Alok Deshpande: What has been going on within the Shiv Sena and the Thackeray family ever since the Eknath Shinde government was formed with the BJP’s help?

I’ve been out on the roads, touring the constituencies of the 40 gaddars (traitors). Apart from them and the 12 MPs who’ve defected, the support for Shiv Sena has probably increased on the ground because everyone has seen Uddhav Thackeray perform as a Chief Minister. In the last two-and-a-half years, our performance graph was high despite the pandemic. For example, everybody knows about the speed with which the Coastal Road and link corridors came about. This, coupled with infrastructure projects and his social justice drives, took him beyond the regular contours of being just a Sena leader. Maharashtra got Rs 6.5 lakh crore of investment from June 2020 to now. There was no ground for such a huge betrayal.

Uddhav Thackeray gave many MLAs their tickets, created their social and political identity and campaigned for them. After giving them everything, even giving them a portfolio like Urban Development, which no CM in the past has parted with, such behaviour is unexpected and disgusting. People have not liked this betrayal either because we were serving them. Maybe we fell short on dirty politics, didn’t send notices or trouble our allies or opponents. That’s not our DNA. We’ve done no wrong and we’ve moved ahead.

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Mohamed Thaver:  When did you all get to know about the rebels’ plan?

It was like a Netflix script. Obviously, there was a certain idea about how the leader of the traitors was discontented. We started hearing murmurs about it when my father was in hospital. We did not believe the news because such machinations are unthinkable from a person you consider close, whom you empower, give so much  love and trust to. Just a month before the defection, my father called Eknath Shinde to Varsha, asking him if he wanted to be the Chief Minister. “Take the keys of Varsha and become the Chief Minister,” he said. At the time, Shinde had said, “I’m with you.”

On June 20, 12 or 13 legislators were speaking to us till late at night. Some of them cried over the phone and two of them actually came back — Kailash Patil and Nitin Deshmukh. But the rest of them were passing on messages from here and there. Then we saw the exodus around 6.30 pm. We spoke to them but they had their reasons.

Sandeep Singh: Don’t you consider this a failure? Where did you miss out as the number of rebels rose from 12 to 40? You didn’t even try resort politics…

In the family, be it my grandfather, father or me, the DNA is to trust the person you’re working with. These are people with whom we’ve worked closely for years. But they had selfish motives. What is the point of holding on to people who’ve sold their souls? The question is do you need to be dirty to survive in politics?

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Zeeshan Shaikh:  Although people are resonating to your outreach programme, don’t you think you should have attempted this before the rebellion? There was largescale dissatisfaction within the party because you were not so accessible.

Uddhav Thackeray couldn’t meet people from December to January because he was in a health bubble. They’ve shifted their goalposts from left to right, done a 180-degree turn and justified that with many grouses. They started with Hindutva, then talked about the alliance with NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) and Congress, party funds before narrowing it all down to us not being accessible. It was such a joke that they could have even called out the colour of my shirt as a motive. If you look at my Twitter timeline, you’ll see me with all of them through the two-and-a-half years at different events. Yes, we stayed away from public events due to COVID-19 protocols but interacted with people.

Liz Mathew: The setback for the Shiv Sena came at a time when it was trying to grow beyond Maharashtra.  Telangana Chief Minister K C Rao has rechristened his party as Bharat Rashtra Samithi and is looking for a national space. The AAP is growing beyond Delhi and Punjab and trying to take on the BJP. What lessons are you drawing from these developments?

More than Shiv Sena and personal growth, the rebellion came at a time when Maharashtra was witnessing a steady growth. Mumbai had its biggest representation — five people, including the Chief Minister — in the state Cabinet. We did not have riots or divisive politics. We registered sustainable development, growth and took care of the environment. As a 32-year-old, what hits me more than losing a government or ministry is good work and the State’s growth getting stalled. From revamping the main street of Mahabaleshwar to planning a 900-metre walkway on Siri Road in Mumbai, we were planning basics like footpaths, safer bus stops, electric mobility. All these have been put on hold. We’re losing on investment by corporations. Vedanta Foxconn has gone to another state. We lost the Bulk Drug Park despite offering a state subsidy. We have 394 pharmacy colleges, enough skill, talent and hospitals, we have the country’s largest vaccine producer. Yet we couldn’t get the project. Same with the Medical Device Park. Are we really focussed on governance? Some of the rebel group legislators have written letters urging the separation of politics from governance.

It has been four months of an unconstitutional government. Had they wanted to join the other side, they could have resigned, contested elections, won again. Now, democracy and the development of our state are in danger. That’s what hits me more than growing the party in other states.

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Liz Mathew: You are into strengthening the party. So who would be your role model, your father or grandfather?

Both. My great-grandfather, my father, my grandfather, party workers and the people who stood by us as a family when we had nothing to offer.

Liz Mathew: What’s your view on dynastic politics?

I’m proud of working as a sixth generation party man and serving the people.

Shubhangi Khapre: In 1966, your grandfather’s pitch was unemployment, which attracted the youth. How will the new Shiv Sena position itself among young people?

Our demographics are our most important asset. The reason for getting IB, IGSCE, ICSE and CBSE board affiliations for the state’s institutions and revamping the state board is to ensure quality education. We have the right to education, but we need the right to quality education. If you want to take society ahead in the next 20 or 25 years with social equity, quality education is the only answer. We need to have a spirit of inquiry and ask whether we are investing in research and development or not. When you educate such a huge chunk of people, what next? We need self-employment and employment opportunities. Even if they are created, are we connecting the talent pool to the right employment opportunity?

The reason why I’m talking about Vedanta Foxconn is that we lost another project that could have created a lakh jobs along with 160 smaller ancillary industries. We had our first meeting with Vedanta Foxconn over Zoom on January 22, right after the Central Government had announced a subsidy for semiconductors. By mid-June, we were sure of locating it at Talegaon. Later, the current unconstitutional Chief Minister tweeted and spoke about it. There was an announcement in the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) journal. And suddenly, the project moves to another state. Likewise the Airbus-Tata deal. We’re hoping it comes to the Multi Modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN) in Vidarbha.

Obviously, the biggest challenge today is going to be the standard of living and that only comes from a gainful, meaningful income. That is one. Two, of course, is healthcare. Three, a better environment and facilities like public transport, parks and gardens. Urban planning is a huge concern for cities like Nashik and Kolhapur.

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Shubhangi Khapre:  Do you hold the Centre equally responsible?

When we were working with the Centre as the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, we brought in Rs 6.5 lakh crore. In Davos, we were working in tandem with the Government of India, we had managed to pull in almost Rs 80,000 crore of investment and signed MoUs, 98 per cent  of which have been executed. To be honest, Covid was the principal opposition. They (the BJP) were indulging in politics.

Sweety Adimulam: There are allegations that you would interfere too much in other ministries. ..

There’s a contradiction here because how could I hold so many review meetings if I had, as they say, isolated myself? Having said that, I have worked closely with other ministers from the city like Varsha Gaikwad, Anil Parab and Aslam Shaikh. We were looking at a cohesive development plan for the city and the suburbs. If I’m asking questions about my city in the Cabinet, what is wrong? If I’m attending a weekly review meeting of the Coastal Road, what is wrong? For all big and small projects, we had MMRDA and BMC working together. You have 16 agencies working in the city, and as Guardian Minister for Mumbai and suburbs, it is my absolute right to get all the 16 agencies together and review meetings. We had invited all relevant ministers to those meetings. If someone has not attended, it’s their lookout.

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Zeeshan Shaikh: Who’s your bigger  rival? The Eknath Shinde-led faction with 40 MLAs or the BJP?

Obviously, you have a huge national party coming on to you. Now, who is behind the 40 traitors? For me, the bigger threat today is being governed by an unconstitutional government. Politics keeps happening. You have a party that gains power or loses it. All of this is a cycle. The moot point is if we are damaging our own institutions. Are we taking our Constitution for granted? I’ve never seen such lawlessness in our state. Just look at the arbitrary transfers.

Sandeep Singh: Who is the leader of the 40 rebels?

I leave it to the people to decide.

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Mohamed Thaver: You have taken up progressive issues like the environment. But these may not resonate with voters…

Once you’ve become a part of the government, you have to think what will be good for the next 50 years. Climate change is a reality. For example, the reason behind setting up a desalination plant today is provision for water in the future. If tomorrow there’s a severe drought, politically you may get votes but you also lose a lot of lives. If we start moving away from monsoon dependency towards desalination —what most countries around the world are doing — we can save the forests. And minimise the damage caused by the monsoon. Good work will get you votes. Today, we’ve got the goodwill of the people.

Nirupama Subramanian: By ditching the BJP after the elections and joining hands with the NCP and Congress, the Sena is accused of becoming Hindutva-lite. In order to reclaim your space, are you going to be more aggressive?

Uddhav Thackeray has clearly defined Hindutva as inclusive. It’s not about politics at all. Yet he was the only Chief Minister who has visited Ayodhya. He also had a couple of Congress MLAs accompanying him soon after he was sworn in. I have requested the Tirupati temple trust to set up a 10-acre temple in Navi Mumbai but it has been stalled by the current government. One of the 40 rebel MLAs took out a pistol in the middle of a Ganpati visarjan procession. For this government, Hindutva is not a belief but a convenient political tool.

Shubhangi Khapre: As the Sena’s second-in- command, can your relationship with the BJP be mended?

If you look at the personal allegations that have been made below the belt over the last couple of years, you know where they’ve come from. And that’s where you will find the answer. In a democracy, we may be on different sides politically, but why do we have to get personal?

Shubhangi Khapre:  Was it more comfortable working with the Congress-NCP, despite differences in ideology, vis-a-vis the BJP?

The MVA was a successful experiment till the betrayal. People have appreciated the coalition’s work, be it on COVID or development. We’ve shown how two different ideologies can come together and work for industries, development, social justice and environment. That’s democracy. Working with the Congress and NCP has been very refreshing because they were extremely supportive. There were no jealousies or cut-throat politics. For example, Sharad Pawarji would call me up and say, “Aaditya, what do you think of this as a tourism policy?” He is an inspiration. At his age, he travels a lot and takes interest in policies. A lot of my learning in the Assembly has come from Ajit Pawarji, a stickler for protocols. Then there’s Balasaheb Thoratji.

Nirupama Subramanian: From one next gen politician to another, how do you see Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra? Will you be joining him?

He is getting good momentum. Crowds are coming spontaneously. It’s good for all of us to be with the people and raising pertinent questions. I’m also on my own yatras across Maharashtra.

Zeeshan Shaikh: How do you view the Supreme Court’s decision to reject your plea of stopping the Election Commission’s exercise on identifying the real Shiv Sena and symbols?

This is not about the Shiv Sena anymore. Yes, both groups are fighting it out and the Supreme Court is giving us a hearing. But whatever the decision, it’s going to be a precedent for other states. My fear, with all due respect, is if smaller treasons like this are going to be legitimised, you will have a lot of political instability in different states. If smaller factions can claim parties, it’s not just detrimental for us. Smaller factions of national parties, too, can claim the party symbol and party voice. That’s never good for democracy.

First published on: 10-10-2022 at 04:04 IST
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