Leaders share bonhomie but BJP-MNS ties still tense

Days after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray asked Narendra Modi to step down as Gujarat Chief Minister, he shared a public platform in Nasik with prominent BJP leader Nitin Gadkari on Saturday.

“Nitinji is a man of progress and development. The Mumbai-Pune expressway and the flyovers in Mumbai were [the late Shiva Sena leader] Balasaheb Thackeray’s dream, but were possible only because of him [Gadkari]. I have always respected him for his work,” Mr. Thackeray said at a programme to redevelop a park along the Godavari river.

In turn, Mr. Gadkari said that Mr. Thackeray had always been interested in progress. “When we used to work for the completion of flyovers and the expressway, Raj used to be equally keen on the projects, along with Balasaheb,” he said.” It [Godapark renovation] is a visionary project. If something is good, there is no harm in calling it good. There is no politics in this. Tomorrow, you journalists will write that Mr. Gadkari and Mr. Thackeray came together. But you should also write about such a good project,” the former BJP president said.

A senior BJP leader said that there was nothing wrong with the public encounter. “The programme was of the Nasik Corporation. The MNS and the BJP are jointly in power there. So there is nothing wrong in Mr. Gadkari attending the programme. I don't know why the media is making such an issue of it,” Vinod Tawde, BJP leader, told this reporter.

But, on background, Nasik-based BJP leaders admitted that the relations between the MNS and the BJP workers remained strained. Even MNS leaders confessed that the public function had not lessened tensions. “This incident cannot be seen as an olive branch extended by any party. The relations are still quite tense. The function cannot be seen as a reflection of the equation the two parties have come to share recently,” a senior MNS leader said on condition of anonymity.