Mumbai: Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray on Sunday broke his silence and decided to nominate party candidates in Maharashtra for the Lok Sabha elections. Thackeray thereby turned down former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari’s proposal to abstain from the general elections to avoid a split in the anti-Congress vote base. Thackeray declared the MNS would contest but, upon election, its members of Parliament (MP) would support the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, in the larger interest of the country.
At a rally on the occasion of MNS’ anniversary here on Sunday, Raj also signalled that his immediate rival would be the Shiv Sena, which is opposed to his entry into the Maha Yuti (grand alliance) comprising the Sena, the BJP, Republican Party of India (Athavale), Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and Rashtriya Samaj Party.
Shiv Sena will contest 22 seats, while the BJP will field its candidates in 26 constituencies. Both parties have spared one or two seats to their new partners from their quota. Maharashtra is expected to witness four- or five-corner contest in most of its 48 constituencies with MNS decision.
As expected, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, who was campaigning in parts of Marathwada, said Thackeray's decision to contest the general elections would be beneficial for the Congress-NCP alliance to retain its supremacy. Of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, the Congress will field its candidates in 27 seats, while 21 will be fielded by the NCP.
Thackeray did not waste any time to announce his first list of seven nominees. The list of MNS candidates include the party's group leader in Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Bala Nandgaonkar in South Mumbai. Nandgaonkar will take on Shiv Sena candidate Arvind Sawant, Congress nominee Milind Deora and Aam Aadmi Party's Meera Sanyal.
In South Central Mumbai, MNS candidate Aditya Shirodkar is expected to give a tough fight to Shiv Sena candidate Rahul Shewale. the Congress nominee is Eknath Gaikwad.
Further, film director and actor Mahesh Manjarekar will contest from North West Mumbai, where Shiv Sena has fielded former minister Gajanan Kirtikar, while the Congress has re-nominated Gurudas Kamat. Besides, MNS has nominated Ashok Khandebharad in Shirur, Pune district and Raju Patil in Kalyan, Thane district.
Pradip Pawar in Nashik and Dipak Paygude in Pune constituency.
According to MNS party leaders, had Thackeray toed Gadkari's line, it would have been suicidal for the party which is currently involved in preparing a blueprint for Maharashtra's growth.
MNS, which was formed in March 2006 after Raj Thackeray deserted Shiv Sena, had contested 11 seats but failed to open its account in the 2009 general elections. The party, which gained a mere 0.4 per cent votes, was largely responsible for eating into BJP-Sena votes, helping the Congress win 17 seats and NCP, eight seats.