Mumbai: The Shiv Sena has distanced itself from the letter of an MLA who suggested joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), turning it around to attack its former ally for allegedly using central agencies to target opposition leaders. The MLA, Pratap Sarnaik, is under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for alleged money laundering.
In his 9 June letter to Shiv Sena chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Sarnaik wrote, among other things, that tying up with the BJP will save Shiv Sena leaders like him, Anil Parab and Ravindra Waikar from problems.
Sarnaik, an MLA from Thane district’s Ovala-Majiwada constituency, asked Thackeray to mend ties with the BJP before it’s too late.
Party functionaries ThePrint spoke to said the Shiv Sena leadership is looking at the letter as the desperation of an MLA under immense pressure. It does not reflect the larger sentiment within the party, the sources added, but exposes the BJP for “pressuring” opposition leaders through central agencies such as the ED, the CBI, and the Income Tax department.
Party sources said Thackeray has not spoken to the MLA, considered to be close to the Shiv Sena leadership, since the letter.
Sarnaik and his family members have been under the ED’s lens since November 2020, when the central agency raided his properties in connection with an alleged Rs 175 crore money laundering case against security services firm Tops Group, its promoter Rahul Nanda, and others.
Since the ED’s action, Sarnaik is said to be untraceable, with the BJP even staging a demonstration in Thane branding him a “missing MLA”.
Sarnaik’s letter to CM Thackeray came on the same day as his petition in the Bombay High Court seeking protection from arrest and restraining the ED from investigating him and his sons in another case, related to the National Spot Exchange Limited, where a firm owned by the MLA is accused of allegedly laundering the proceeds of crime on behalf of another company.
‘Letter could have been instigated by BJP’
In his letter, Sarnaik had alleged that many MLAs are unhappy with being in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), and feel that the coalition is only benefitting the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The letter came to light over the weekend, 10 days after it was written.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said Sarnaik “is an honourable member of the Shiv Sena and a party MLA”.
“He and his family are facing problems, and he has clarified the reason for his suffering in his letter, saying the BJP is using central agencies and harassing Shiv Sena leaders. To get out of that suffering, he said the Shiv Sena president should mend ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“There is no factionalism within the Shiv Sena,” he added.
A senior Shiv Sena functionary said, “In Shiv Sena, when something hits us, we take the bull by the horns, but some people just don’t have that quality. This letter was completely unexpected for Shiv Sainiks and seems to have come from the desperation of a man who wants to save himself.”
Another senior Shiv Sena functionary said there is a strong possibility of Sarnaik having written the letter under pressure from the BJP.
“It is possible that he wrote the letter under the opposition’s pressure. He really was under a lot of pressure and had also gone underground. The party has been helping him throughout though his woes are related to his business. It is not a political problem,” the leader said.
“Uddhavsaheb has not spoken to him since the letter. The theory is, his (Sarnaik’s) own people must have leaked the letter over ten days after it was written,” he added.
Political commentator Prakash Bal told ThePrint that the letter appears to be an “attempt to destabilise the MVA government”.
“Sarnaik must have been instructed to write such a letter, and there would be more such attacks on the Shiv Sena in the run-up to next year’s civic polls in ten cities, including Mumbai. Now, it all depends on how Uddhav Thackeray hits back,” he added.
‘A signal to the Congress’
Shiv Sena leaders say the letter, though unexpected, helps the party send a signal to Congress leaders who have been talking of contesting future elections solo.
Sarnaik’s letter talks about the Congress’ statement on fighting polls solo as one of his grouses with the MVA. The letter adds that the Congress and the NCP are going to town saying it is because of them that Thackeray became the CM, and that they are weakening the Shiv Sena instead of weaning people away from other parties.
The first Shiv Sena functionary quoted above said, “Every party will want to grow itself. The Congress also wants to revive its strength. ‘Going solo’ was a call that the Shiv Sena had given a few years ago, but in politics one has to look at the larger good and make compromises, which is exactly what we did.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)