In a move that could have an impact on the prospects of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), headed by Raj Thackeray, said on Sunday that the party would contest the Lok Sabha election independently, but would support Narendra Modi for Prime Minister.
“I support Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. All my MPs will support him in the Lok Sabha,” Mr. Thackeray said at a function marking the eighth anniversary of the party.
Mr. Thackeray’s stand could strain the equation between the BJP and its alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, a rival of the MNS. Earlier, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari had met Mr. Thackeray and asked him not to contest the elections.
The first list of candidates released by Mr. Thackeray showed that the MNS would field six candidates against the Shiv Sena and only one against the BJP. In the 2009 elections, the MNS played spoiler for the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. It cut into their votes, especially in Mumbai, where the saffron combine lost all six seats to the Congress-NCP front.
The Shiv Sena was not pleased. Its spokesperson Rahul Narvekar said, “The MNS move is an attempt to confuse voters. They will see through these tactics. Whether to include the MNS in the NDA is a decision which should be taken jointly,” he added.
Mr. Thackeray criticised Mr. Modi in January, saying he was too Gujarat-centric and that he should step down as Chief Minister if he wanted to be a prime ministerial candidate.
However, Mr. Gadkari welcomed the MNS stand. “This will not affect our alliance with the Shiv Sena,” he said.
The NCP said the “secret understanding” between the MNS and the BJP could backfire on them. Among the candidates declared by the MNS is actor-director Mahesh Manjrekar, who will contest against sitting Congress MP Gurudas Kamat from Mumbai North West. MLA Bala Nandgaokar will contest against sitting MP Milind Deora from Mumbai South.
In other developments, the BJP complained to the Election Commission against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for linking the RSS with Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.