In a significant development for the forthcoming assembly polls, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray on Monday met United Progressive Alliance chairperson and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her home in Delhi. MNS general secretary Shalini Thackeray, in a Facebook post, described the meeting as a “courtesy call", but added that it could determine the direction Maharashtra politics will take in the near future.
This is the first time Thackeray has formally met Sonia Gandhi. The former Shiv Sainik’s uncle and Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray was an acerbic critic of the Congress leader and the Congress party in general.
The meeting is significant in the context of the state elections in Maharashtra, which is likely to be held in October. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the MNS chief, as well as leaders of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, had given enough hints that the 13-year-old political party may tie up with the Congress and NCP for the assembly polls. The MNS did not contest the Lok Sabha elections, but Thackeray had addressed more than 10 well-attended rallies against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). However, Thackeray’s campaign did not have any visible impact, as the NDA ended up winning 41 of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Yet, political observers consider the MNS to be a more serious player in the assembly polls, and Thackeray’s meeting with Gandhi could be a step in that direction.
Earlier in the day, Thackeray met chief election commissioner Sunil Arora with complaints against electronic voting machines (EVMs), and alleged that EVMs malfunctioned in the Lok Sabha elections. He requested the CEC to conduct the assembly polls in Maharashtra using ballot papers for a free and fair election, as per a press release issued by the MNS.