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‘Pungiwala’ to ‘patriot’ — how Thackeray & Kejriwal went from rivals to friends with common foe

Delhi CM Kejriwal & Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray put up united front against BJP in press conference, a far cry from Sena's caustic criticisms of AAP in its early years.

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Mumbai: On Wednesday, after a brief meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray spoke about how the two of them “nurture relations” that go beyond politics. Similarly, Kejriwal spoke of how a bond of friendship keeps bringing him to the Thackeray residence, Matoshree, every time he is in Mumbai.

Kejriwal was seeking Thackeray’s support in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government’s fight against the Union government’s ordinance on the control of services in Delhi. The two leaders also spoke about the need for opposition parties to unite for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The meeting exemplifies how the relationship between AAP and Thackeray’s party has transformed in just 10 years.

In 2013, around the time AAP secured 28 seats in the Delhi assembly and formed its first government, its national convener Kejriwal was frequently at the receiving end of caustic criticism by the then undivided Shiv Sena and its chief, Thackeray. With AAP trying to make a foray into Maharashtra, and with the Shiv Sena still a committed ally of the BJP, Kejriwal’s party was then seen as a natural enemy.  

However, the political battle lines have since been redrawn. AAP is a virtually non-existent entity in Maharashtra, while the BJP is enjoying power in Maharashtra in alliance with a rebel faction of the Sena, now officially recognised by the Election Commission of India as the Shiv Sena. Thackeray and his Shiv Sena (UBT), meanwhile, are fighting a legal battle to get its identity and symbol back. 

Meanwhile, Kejriwal has locked horns with the BJP-led central government over its ordinance to create an authority for transfers and postings of Group A officers in Delhi. 

With the binding glue of a common foe, political equations seem to have changed, especially for the Shiv Sena (UBT). For Thackeray, who had once called Kejriwal a pungiwala (snake charmer) who hypnotised the people of Delhi, the AAP convener has changed into a “new relation” and a “patriot” who wants to save the country’s democracy.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kejriwal said, “Now they are saying we don’t care what the Supreme Court says. We will take out an ordinance and reverse it…When someone becomes so egotistical, they become selfish.” 

The Supreme Court had in a judgment earlier this month said that the Delhi government has legislative and executive power over services in the capital, except for public order, police and land. While the Modi government has sought a review, it has also issued an ordinance to set up an authority for the transfers and postings of Group A officers.

“I am very thankful to Uddhav ji and the Shiv Sena that they are supporting the people of Delhi but this fight is not of Delhi alone. It is of democracy, of people, of federalism,” he added.

Sanjay Patil, a researcher at the politics and civics department in the Mumbai University, attributes this to a change in circumstances. 

“The enemy is common,” he told ThePrint. “These leaders are not necessarily of the same ideology, but the idea is to get people with a common enemy together. Among all opposition parties, Uddhav Thackeray has directly challenged the BJP politically and ideologically, and he is also seen as the leader who has been the most wronged.”

“The BJP splintered its alliance with the undivided Shiv Sena in 2014, the party split in 2019, the Thackeray-led MVA government was toppled, and then his faction even lost the party’s name and symbol. Admittedly, he also got a lot of sympathy from this,” Patil said. 

“Some of that sympathy can also translate to other opposition leaders joining forces with him and for Thackeray, it will always help having friends in Parliament to side with his party on sticky issues,” he added.

Also Read: Sena (UBT) says Sharad Pawar’s criticism of Uddhav his ‘personal opinion’, but leaders defend party chief

Thackeray and Kejriwal from ‘pungiwala’ to ‘item girl’

At the press conference after the meeting, Thackeray called for all parties opposed to the BJP to help “save” the country’s democracy.

“One thing is for sure, the Shiv Sena and Matoshree are well known for nurturing relations. Some people only indulge in politics, but we go beyond politics and nurture relations,” he told the media.  

He added: “Politics has its own place. But the coming year is that of elections, and if we miss the train, democracy will likely vanish from our country…we talk about Opposition, but who is really the Opposition? All of us are patriots and those who want to drive away democracy should be called the Opposition.”

This was Kejriwal’s second visit to Matoshree this year — his first was in February, when he was also accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.

The visit also comes less than a fortnight after Thackeray’s son, Aaditya — the MLA for Worli and a former Maharashtra minister — met Kejriwal at the latter’s residence in Delhi.

When Shiv Sena (UBT) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, opening the press conference before Thackeray and Kejriwal, spoke about this being Kejriwal’s second visit to Matoshree this year, the Delhi CM interjected, saying: “Yeh pyaar hain”. (This is love).

However, there was no love lost between Kejriwal and Thackeray when the former first became chief minister of Delhi in 2013.

Back then, the Shiv Sena, then undivided, had slammed him as a “pungiwala” who had hypnotised the people of Delhi with his promises. The party wished his newly formed government luck, but said Kejriwal’s attitude of dismissing all other political parties as corrupt was “arrogant and objectionable”.

At the time, AAP also had a chapter in Maharashtra and was trying to expand in the state, especially in Mumbai, putting it in direct competition with the Shiv Sena.

In January 2014, when Kejriwal while being Delhi CM had staged a dharna outside the Union home ministry, Thackeray had joined the larger political chorus criticising the AAP convenor. He called AAP the “item girl of country politics,” saying even actor Rakhi Sawant could govern better than it.

Common enemy

Thackeray’s criticism of Kejriwal began softening post 2014, after the BJP broke its 25-year-old alliance with the undivided Shiv Sena to contest Maharashtra elections independently.

Although it did ally with the Sena after the elections, the BJP, which won 122 seats in the 288-member assembly against the Shiv Sena’s 63, emerged as the senior partner. Soon, the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena became the BJP’s bitter ally, playing the role of an opposition despite sitting on the treasury benches.

It was also around this time that AAP realised that it was not gaining any ground in Maharashtra — after drawing a blank in the state in the general election, it didn’t contest the assembly polls that year, and disbanded its state unit in 2015.

At the same time, the party swept the Delhi assembly polls in February 2015. Thackeray hailed Kejriwal’s victory, calling it “not just a wave, but a tsunami”.

In 2018, when Kejriwal sat on a protest against Delhi’s lieutenant governor, the undivided Shiv Sena’s reaction was vastly different from what it was in 2014. The party expressed solidarity with AAP, with Raut even telephoning Kejriwal to say what was happening with the AAP government didn’t bode well for India’s democracy.

Last month, Thackeray had also joined Kejriwal in attacking the prime minister over his allegedly fake university degree, raising the issue at an MVA rally.

Also Read: Win for Shinde, win for Uddhav? What SC’s Maharashtra govt judgment means for rival Senas


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