Much to the Shiv Sena's chagrin, its bete noire Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is now officially a supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party.The MNS has not yet joined either the five-party saffron alliance in the state or the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).MNS chief Raj Thackeray has not only announced support to BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, but also fielded Lok Sabha candidates specifically against the Shiv Sena in the state - barring Pune."Narendra Modi should become the next prime minister. My party MPs will extend full cooperation to him," Raj Thackeray declared amidst applause at the MNS foundation day function here late Sunday.
With this, he partly accepted BJP senior leader Nitin Gadkari's proposal last week - first, not to contest against the saffron alliance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and second, to support the BJP candidates.Though the MNS will support Modi and BJP candidates, its entry into the fray could mar the chances of the Shiv Sena, the BJP's ally in the five-party saffron alliance in the state and also the NDA.The MNS also hopes to corner the 'Marathi manoos' votes, till now claimed by the Shiv Sena."I will show my strength in the elections," Raj Thackeray added, exuding confidence while declaring the MNS's first list of candidates.
"I will later speak out on all charges made against me so far. It is my style to let others speak first, then give a fitting reply," Raj declared, referring to the recent heartburn in the Shiv Sena after MNS-BJP leaders hobnobbed.The MNS candidates include Bala Nandgaonkar (Mumbai South), noted Bollywood actor-director Mahesh Manjrekar (Mumbai North-West), Rajiv Patil (Kalyan), Ashok Khandebard (Shirur), Pradeep Pawar (Nashik), and Deepak Paygude (Pune), the last where a BJP candidate is contesting.Incidentally, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the MNS fielded 11 candidates, but drew a blank. Its candidates finished second in around half a dozen constituencies, marring the chances of the saffron alliance.Raj's decision to throw the MNS weight behind Modi has not found favour with its minority supporters. Many of them expressed shock and some Muslim leaders from Thane quit the party.The BJP gave a guarded welcome to the MNS' support, but requested Raj to consider supporting other NDA partners as well, an indication to the Shiv Sena.So far, the Shiv Sena has not reacted to this development.