Mumbai: If Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray expected opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rally around his call for a ‘Modi-mukt Bharat’, he is in for a disappointment.

No party, even those opposed to Modi or the Hindutva brand of politics have supported Thackeray’s exhortation. While the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) remain opposed to MNS’s street violence and Thackeray’s support for Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the Shiv Sena believes its alliance is with the Bharatiya Janata Party, not Modi as an individual.

At a rally in Mumbai on Gudi Padwa last week, Thackeray called for unity among all anti-BJP forces for a Modi-mukt Bharat. While Thackeray demonstrated that his politics had come full circle from 2012 when he visited Gujarat as state guest and lavished praise on the then Gujarat chief minister Modi’s development model, his latest call for an India free of Modi has impressed none.

“We have criticised Modi and will continue to do so. But we haven’t yet gone to the extent of making this an anti-Modi battle only. Our alliance with BJP predates the rise of Modi and it is not a personal alliance," said a senior Shiv Sena leader requesting anonymity. He said Raj Thackeray’s call was aimed more at Shiv Sena than other political parties.

“Why would other anti-Modi parties like Congress, NCP, and Communists join hands with Raj Thackeray? However they hate Modi, they can’t have an alliance with someone who said Ram Mandir must be built in Ayodhya," said this leader, referring to Thackeray’s claim that BJP would exploit the Hindu-Muslim acrimony over this issue for political gains, though the MNS chief supported Ram Mandir at the disputed site. The Shiv Sena leader said Raj Thackeray wanted to score points over the Sena by positioning himself directly against Modi.

“Like the Congress and NCP, Raj Thackeray is mocking us for being critical of the BJP-led government and yet remaining in power with BJP. Though Modi is still a popular PM, the anti-Modi sentiment is rising among different sections of the society. But it is too early to take such a direct anti-Modi stand because in the past, personal attacks have benefitted him. We don’t want to make that mistake," the Sena leader said.

Another Shiv Sena leader and a minister in Maharashtra said his party could not make it personal at this stage. “Even Modi has never called for Gandhi-mukt Bharat though he may have meant exactly that when he made the call for Congress-mukt Bharat. It is easier for BJP or even us to oppose Congress brand of politics because we are poles apart. But our alliance with BJP is not limited to Modi only. It is stupid to expect the BJP to dump Modi and have an alliance with us. Also, what if Modi turns it around ahead of 2019 elections? Most of the parties who are ganging up now against Modi have demonstrated anti-Hindu biases and we would rather stay with BJP, despite its soft and fading Hindutva, than join these parties. Our cadres and supporters won’t be comfortable with anti-Hindu parties just because we hate Modi," said this leader who did not want to be named.

Soon after Thackeray gave the Modi-mukt Bharat call, Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar ridiculed the MNS for having a single legislator in the legislative assembly. “Maharashtra’s legislature is already MNS-mukt," Shelar tweeted. The Congress too distanced itself from the MNS call when Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam ruled out any alliance with MNS which he said was a party that routinely instigated violence and created social disharmony.

A state BJP functionary, who did not want to be named, said the MNS chief was “merely trying to be relevant". “He has been a big let- down. Most of his close confidantes have left him in 12 years since he founded the party. He is now trying to exploit the BJP-Shiv Sena acrimony and also position himself as the champion of Marathi population by frequently attacking Gujaratis. All this is aimed at instigating the Shiv Sena and forcing it to abandon the BJP. But the BJP-Sena alliance is based on the foundation of Hindutva—a sort of coalition between Sena’s Marathi base and BJP’s non-Marathi base—and the Sena’s knows that it is a winning combination still," the BJP leader said.

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