Raj Thackeray, Sonia Gandhi’s surprise meet sparks political buzzhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/raj-thackeray-sonia-gandhi-surprise-meet-sparks-political-buzz-5823639/

Raj Thackeray, Sonia Gandhi’s surprise meet sparks political buzz

Rumours of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel helping to arrange the meeting are also doing the rounds.

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MNS chief Raj Thackeray met Congress UPA chief Sonia Gandhi. (ANI)

MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s meeting with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday has taken political circles by surprise. Not only Congress leaders in the state but even MNS leaders apparently had no clue about  Thackeray’s meeting with Gandhi during the former’s first visit to the national capital in 14 years.

NCP too said it had no idea about the meeting.

“No, we had no clue about his proposed meeting with Sonia Gandhi,” said MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande.

Asked whether Thackeray had taken any prior appointment or sought the help of any prominent Congress leader, Deshpande said, “We don’t have any clue but yes, he must have taken a prior appointment. His meeting has surprised all the MNS leaders.”

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Thackeray was in Delhi to meet Election Commission officials to press for the use of ballot papers, instead of EVMs, during the forthcoming state assembly elections. While he briefed reporters on his meeting with the poll panel, he did not provide details of his talks with the Congress leader.

“So far, Thackeray has not revealed whether he discussed the issue of assembly elections with Sonia Gandhi. He has not spoken about the issue at all,” an MNS leader said.

Speaking on similar lines, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “We too learnt it from the media.” The party said no leader was involved in setting up the meeting between the two leaders.

Rumours of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel helping to arrange the meeting are also doing the rounds. Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said, “I believe if not Sharad Pawar, then Ahmed Patel must have brought the two leaders together. This is because Ahmed Patel was present during Thackeray’s son Amit’s wedding in Mumbai in January.”

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik denied NCP’s participation in the meeting. “No, we do not anything about the meeting,” he said.

The meeting between the two leaders also sparked speculations whether the Congress-NCP alliance would now be willing to accommodate MNS on board for the ensuing assembly elections. During the Lok Sabha elections, NCP was in favour of aligning with MNS.

However, Congress leader Ashok Chavan expressed concerns over ideological differences with MNS. Thackeray had even held a series of rallies where he launched a diatribe against Modi-Shah duo.

Malik, however, said if MNS was ready to join Congress-NCP alliance, his party will welcome the development. “We have always been in favour of Congress-NCP joining hands with MNS,” he said.

Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde refused to comment on the issue.

Deshpande said, “I got to learn from MNS leaders the two issues were discussed during the meeting. Firstly, Raj had sought the help of Sonia Gandhi as UPA chairperson to lead the opposition’s charge against EVMs. Besides this, the assembly election tie-up was also discussed. Thackeray apparently tried to send out a message to the Congress state leaders that he had a direct hotline to the top Congress leader.”

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Meanwhile, Shiv Sena taunted Thackeray over his meeting with Gandhi. “If CM Devendra Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray visit Pandharpur for Vithal’s darshan, what is wrong in that same…we don’t keep a diary of who met whom in New Delhi,” it said.