Throughout the two-and-a-half years of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, if there was one politician from Maharashtra who managed to constantly stay in the news, it was Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena’s chief spokesperson and its four-term Rajya Sabha member.
While many saw Raut’s hand in Uddhav Thackeray’s 2019 decision to break the Sena’s 25-year alliance with the BJP and join the MVA along with its traditional foes, the NCP and Congress, he is now being blamed by rebel Sena MLAs for “damaging” the party and causing a split among the MLAs.
As the long-standing associate editor of Saamana, the party mouthpiece, Raut was until 2019 known mostly for his acerbic editorials, but came into the limelight after the Assembly elections that year, when the Sena broke its ties with the BJP over the CM post.
Raut was first elected to Rajya Sabha in July 2004 and soon after, was unanimously elected as the party’s chief whip in the Upper House, where his blistering speeches caught the attention of rival parties and his bosses in Mumbai. His entry to Rajya Sabha also meant that Raut served as the party’s face in New Delhi.
Raut is known to have played a major part in forging the 2019 alliance with the NCP-Congress, which many claimed was made possible because of his close association with NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
For almost a month after the elections, as the political impasse played out, Raut managed to send out the message to other parties as well the public that the next CM of Maharashtra would be from the Sena. Addressing the media, he would repeatedly say, “Maharashtra me sarkar banegi, aur mukhya mantri Shiv Sena ka hi hoga (The government will be formed in Maharashtra and the Sena will head it).”
Many were amused at the predictability of the line that he spouted at his press conferences, but when Thackeray finally took over as CM in November 2019, Raut had the last laugh.
Over the next few months, Raut underlined his position as the Number 2 in the party after Thackeray – something that has been a sore point for Eknath Shinde and the other rebels, who were referring to Raut while alleging that Thackeray listens to no one but a coterie that surrounds him.
At least 12 of the 40 rebel Sena MLAs have launched a frontal attack on Raut for his statements against them, with some claiming that he is on a mission to “finish the party in association with the NCP”. After the rebellion, Raut had resorted to name-calling and invectives to hit out at those who sided with Shinde.
Objecting to his choice of words, Deepak Kesarkar, the spokesperson for the Shinde camp, had said, “He is shooting his mouth off and damaging the party. No party should have a spokesperson like Sanjay Raut. He is on a mission to finish the party. All the MLAs are upset with his statements and more are joining us.”
“He called us corpses, buffaloes. He should remember that he became an MP earlier this month through our votes. If we are buffaloes and corpses, he should have some self-esteem and resign as MP,” Kesarkar added.
Rebel MLA Sanjay Rathod had earlier alleged that Thackeray was ready for talks with them but Raut “derailed” the plan.
Replying to these allegations, Raut had said that the rebels were simply trying to justify their action. “Initially they said they rebelled for the cause of Hindutva, then they said there was an issue of funds, then they said NCP was harassing them and now they are saying it’s because of me. I think they should first sit together and decide one reason and tell us that.”
Raut, whose family hails from Alibaug in Raigad district of Maharashtra, grew up in Dadar in Mumbai, to where his father, also a Sainik, moved.
Raut’s sharp tongue has landed him in controversies in the past, including when he allegedly used unparliamentary language on camera against actress Kangana Ranavat, and BJP leader Kirit Somaiya.
Last month, Raut was under the ED scanner in an alleged land scam that saw him being questioned for 10 hours.
Raut started his career as a reporter in 1980 with the Mumbai-based ‘Marmik’, a Marathi weekly. In 1981, he joined the editorial board of the Lokprabha, the Marathi weekly of The Indian Express Group, where he did a series of investigative stories on Mumbai’s underworld.
While in his thirties, in 1991, he was hand-picked by Sena founder Bal Thackeray and made Executive Editor of ‘Saamana’. It was here that developed a close relationship with Bal Thackeray and subsequently with Uddhav and Raj Thackeray.