Just a week after sharing a public platform in Nashik, the former BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray met at a five-star hotel here on Monday.
The meeting set off speculation on whether the BJP was trying to draw Mr. Thackeray into the NDA fold despite his public criticism of Narendra Modi. However, this was swiftly dismissed by the BJP. The party is in alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, a rival of the MNS.
Mr. Gadkari told The Hindu: “I had a talk with Raj Thackeray to convince him not to field too many candidates for the Lok Sabha election. By fielding candidates, he will help the Congress-NCP by splitting the opposition vote. I tried to convince him that defeating the Congress at the Centre should be a priority.” He dismissed any talk of an alliance with the MNS. “Our alliance is with the Shiv Sena and seat-sharing talks are already concluded.”
The BJP claimed that the two leaders met at the hotel by accident. “They know each other well, they had a conversation. That is all there is to it,” said BJP leader Vinod Tawde.
Earlier in the day, the party’s Mumbai president, Ashish Shelar, tweeted: “Nitinji and Raj are accessible people and they met each other for a discussion on [a] Congress-free India.”
The Shiv Sena, however, refused to be drawn into the controversy. “If the BJP says it was an accidental meeting, then it was. There is no reason for us to react to it,” said Sanjay Raut, MP.