Uddhav hints at joining hands with Raj

Mumbai, Jan 30 (IANS) Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray Wednesday hinted he was open to the idea of his party joining hands with cousin Raj Thackeray's MNS, speaking off political reactions in Maharashtra.

The indication came in an interview to the party mouthpiece Saamna, Thackeray's first since his father Balasaheb Thackeray's death Nov 17 and after he took over the reins of the party Jan 17.

Estranged cousin Raj Thackeray declined to comment.

Asked if the cousins could come together, Uddhav Thackeray told Saamna: "You cannot clap with one hand. Tell me, can you?"

Shiv Sena ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the prospects of unity between the estranged cousins.

"There should be unity between them. It will be a major political development," said a BJP leader, Vinod Tawade.

Lauding the move, senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde said it augur well for both the brothers and the Marathi people.

Saamna's executive editor and party MP Sanjay Raut asked Uddhav Thackeray whether his comment implied the Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti could join hands.

"Why do you ask this question only to me? I am ready to reply. But for that you have to make us sit together, next to each other. Then you can ask the question to both of us. It depends on both sides," the Shiv Sena leader said, hinting at the possibility of burying the hatchet with Raj.

"More important than coming together, we have to first analyse why we drifted away... If we reunite, then for what purpose? Who is your main political opponent? Who do you want to destroy politically? And what direction should be taken for achieving this?" Uddhav Thackeray added.

Asked to clarify his views, Thackeray said the late Bal Thackeray had founded the Shiv Sena over four decades ago to fight for the rights of the Marathi people.

"Subsequently, when he realised that Islamic groups were posing a threat to the country, he said that only the Marathis would not be able to tackle the challenge. So he adopted the policy that in Maharashtra he would fight for Marathis. For the entire country he would be a Hindu," Thackeray said.

The Congress was dismissive of the comments.

"Shiv Sena is losing ground and it is difficult to keep its workers and leaders united. Now perhaps they will include the MNS in the (SS-BJP-RPI) alliance for selfish political motives," a Congress spokesman said.

In the interview, Uddhav Thackeray lamented that Marathis were divided on the basis of religion and caste.

He emphasised that the Shiv Sena "was the party of Marathis" and that his father forged an alliance with the BJP over two decades ago to ensure that the Hindu vote did not split.

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