Mumbai: The mornings begin with his stinging, and sometimes even nasty, editorials that often make national headlines. Then he is on TV, speaking his party’s mind, no holds barred. In between, he could be meeting his party boss Uddhav Thackeray or NCP chief Sharad Pawar or top Congress leaders, trying to broker a most unlikely political alliance to take power in Maharashtra. Then, he also finds himself in hospital for an angioplasty and giving sound bytes to news channels from his sick bed.
These days, Sanjay Raut is everywhere, and is unstoppable.
The unassuming, bespectacled former Marathi journalist has become the face and voice of the Shiv Sena, which dared to snap its decades-old ties with the powerful BJP despite their pre-poll alliance getting a majority, and is negotiating a partnership with bitter rivals NCP and Congress to form an alliance government in one of India’s biggest states.
Raut’s Saamana ‘magic’
Trying to trace the route of Raut’s journey from the advertising department of Marathi daily Loksatta in the 1980s to becoming a leader of reckoning in the Shiv Sena in 2019, is more difficult than the journey itself. The openness of his life makes it difficult to track the creases, if any.
In his nearly three-decade association with the Shiv Sena, Raut’s growth cannot be merely attributed to his proximity with the Thackerays — the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and the incumbent chief Uddhav.
Those who know him closely say Raut has worked his way up without any shortcuts. As the executive editor of Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, it is mandatory for Raut to interact with the Thackerays on a daily basis, thereby leaving himself open to close scrutiny.
The sharp and witty style of his editorials in Saamana has a sizeable fan following. Considered to be the voice of the party chief, these written words are sacrosanct for the Sainiks. In the years since he has taken over the reins at the paper, Raut is solely responsible for giving an entity-like status to the editorials.
Soft-spoken and genial, he is a paradox in the party with a very violent past. Raut, who was more of a backroom boy, was effective in conveying Bal Thackeray’s viewpoint to the world at large.
“All newsrooms monitor the Saamana editorials closely every day. It has become like a beat,” said a Mumbai-based journalist who has been tasked with the job.
Articulate, with a “magic” way with words, Raut toned down the aggression in the paper’s editorial and introduced moderation into it. His interactions with Bal Thackeray gave the party founder a glimpse of Raut’s political acumen. His unflinching loyalty to the Shiv Sena chief saw him being elevated into Delhi’s political arena. Raut was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2004 and is now in his third term.
He catapulted into prominence when the infighting between the Thackeray cousins — Uddhav and Raj — got ugly. Since he was considered to be a close friend of Raj Thackeray, Raut tried to patch up things up. In January 2006, when Raj Thackeray broke away from his uncle’s party, Raut’s daily visits to Krishna Kunj (Raj Thackeray’s residence) and then back to Matoshree (Bal Thackeray’s residence) made it to the TV channels by the hour. When several leaders from the Shiv Sena switched sides to Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Raut’s decision to stay on with Bal Thackeray shocked many as he was seen as a sure-fire deserter. It did not earn Raut an elevated status in the party but it has made Uddhav Thackeray watch his own back since.
Although Raut, through his actions, has pledged his loyalty to the Shiv Sena, sources said he enjoys a cordial relationship with Uddhav.
“It is not a friendship like he has with Raj saheb. Uddhavji is not comfortable with this friendship,” said a source.
Raut’s steady rise in the Shiv Sena is directly connected to the inaccessibility of the Thackerays. Since he wrote the editorials and met the Thackerays or talked to them almost every day, Raut became the go-to man for the Sainiks and the media. According to sources, Raut’s strongest asset is his ability to write and articulate the word of the Thackerays.
“For the common Sainik, these editorials are Saheb’s aadesh (diktat),” said a source.
Through the editorials, Raut has managed to get a sizeable fan following amongst the Sainiks.
Film journalist Dilip Thakur met Raut in the early 1980s when both were freelance writers for Marathi magazine Ranjan. Although their career graph was similar upto a point, Raut’s picked up after he joined Saamana in 1992.
“He was someone who wanted to be different from the others. His contacts started growing as he grew in the Shiv Sena. He worked very hard to be where he is now. It is not easy to grow in the Shiv Sena,” said Thakur.
Although they continue to be friends, Raut’s hectic schedule has reduced the frequency of his interactions with Thakur.
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The ‘workaholic’ from Alibaug
The 58-year-old Raut belongs to Chondhi village in Alibaug (a coastal area close to Mumbai). Those on his speed dial are the envy of others.
In Maharashtra’s present political drama, Raut has aggressively pursued leaders of the Congress and NCP and cleared pitches for his chief to follow.
Those close to Raut say he is a workaholic, and even postponed an angioplasty until the chest pain became unbearable.
“He believes that at least one page has to be written a day. Wherever he is, he writes that one page,” said a source.
After his writing stint with Ranjan, Raut went on to write for Marmik, the political magazine founded by Bal Thackeray much before he started Saamana. Bal Thackeray’s political satire in the form of cartoons made Marmik a popular read in erstwhile Bombay, which was caught in the throes of the Shiv Sena brand of agitational politics.
On 13 August 1984, as a writer for Marmik, Raut shared the stage with Bal Thackeray at the magazine’s foundation day celebrations at Shanmukananda Hall.
“Both of us got to sit next to Balasaheb on the stage,” said Thakur.
And though Raut moved from Marmik to Loksatta and then to Lokprabha, the impact of that meeting with Bal Thackeray left a lasting impression on him. Little did he know that that first meeting would convert into a job opportunity years later.
As he moved from one newsroom to another, so did his association with the Thackerays. Raut also revered well-known musician Shrikant Thackeray, who was Bal Thackeray’s brother and Raj’s father. As a frequent visitor to this household, it was not long before that a friendship sprang between Raj Thackeray and Raut.
Banker Prakit Sarang and Raut were college mates at the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Commerce in Wadala, central Mumbai. “He was writing for Marmik when he was in college. We were fascinated to have a writer amongst us. We felt proud to know him,” said Sarang, who is a fan of Raut’s editorials.
Sarang attests to Raut’s ‘workaholic’ tag.
“I live in Parel. When he joined Saamana, the office was in Parel. I would drop in to chat with him many times. But five minutes into the chat he would tell me he had work to do. He did not allow friendships to interfere with his work,” said Sarang.
Raut’s writings have courted controversies on numerous occasions. In April 2015, a Saamana editorial drew sharp criticism for stating that the voting rights of Muslims should be taken away. Echoing Uddhav Thackeray’s sentiments, Raut had written that as long as Muslims are used as vote banks, they have no future.
Whenever the editorials have raised controversy and truths have become inconvenient, the Thackerays have maintained that they are Raut’s views and not theirs.
Many members of the extended Thackeray family are connected to Bollywood, and therefore Raut’s foray into Bollywood was a natural progression. He produced and was the writer for the film Thackeray, a biopic on Bal Thackeray, which was released in December 2018.
In the present political upheaval, with the Shiv Sena adamant on its stand that the next chief minister of Maharashtra will be from the party, Raut’s name is being whispered loudly after those of Uddhav and his son Aaditya Thackeray. This has unsettled many leaders within the party.
“He should stay in Delhi and look after the party’s interests there. The people in the Shiv Sena will not allow him to be the CM,” said Sarang.
Also read: Shiv Sena, at loggerheads with BJP, can’t align with NCP, Congress. It will be self-harming
Jurnos who sold his soul and fooled marathi manoos
And how many Brownie you get for this?
Have sold the Sena
comes from Alibag…now I understand why he fumes ? Alibag and Agra are famous for the same thing
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