There is talk that Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) will join the anti-BJP front. This after former Union Minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar met MNS chief Raj Thackeray in Mumbai on Wednesday.
The latest development comes amid differences of opinion between the Congress and the NCP over including Raj Thackeray in the Opposition alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha and state assembly elections, reported NDTV.
The meeting between Pawar and the MNS chief, who have in the past engaged in verbal sparring, took place in Dadar. It lasted for about one-and-a-half hours.
Maharashtra has 48 Lok Sabha seats, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh. As per sources, MNS expects to be given at least two seats for the Parliament election. If this demand is met, Thackeray is said to be keen on joining the Opposition front.
Sources in the NCP said the issue of taking along the MNS, perceived as being anti-North Indian, was being considered at the level of the central leadership of the Congress.
Ajit Pawar and two other senior leaders of the party- Praful Patel and Jayant Patil- said that Parliamentary board of the NCP also pressed for its chief Sharad Pawar to throw the hat in the election ring again from Madha Lok Sabha seat.
Party leader Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, who currently represents the seat, said he himself urged Pawar to contest from the seat.
The leaders, however, said it is the NCP who would take a final call in this regard.
The MNS chief has been vocal against the policies of BJP governments in Centre and state.
Last year, he asked the state farmers to throw onions at ministers of the Devendra Fadnavis government, if these ministers didn't listen to them.
Then, he took a jibe at the NDA government at the Centre after the Congress formed governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, saying that the country needed "Ram Rajya" and not a Ram temple.
He even remarked that Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, often mocked as "pappu", has now become "param pujya" (highly revered).
Thackeray, also, criticised the Maharashtra government last year over the sensational killing of tigress Avni. He was unhappy with the plastic ban in the state too.
Thackeray had accused that the state authorities killed the tigress to save industrialist Anil Ambani's proposed project in Yavatmal district. However, the charge was denied by Ambani's company as well as a district official.
MNS' inclusion in Maharashtra Opposition alliance is not welcomed by the Congress, which is pushing for an inclusive agenda nationally.
Ajit, however, said the issue would be discussed with the Congress as well before the nitty-gritty of the alliance is worked out.
"I had met (MNS chief) Raj Thackeray yesterday. I apprised party leaders about it today. We will now discuss the issue with Congress. The general mood within our party is positive towards taking forward discussion with the MNS," Pawar told reporters.
Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil said the final list of the candidates is likely to be announced in the next five to six days.
The Congress and the NCP are talking to alliance partners and would finalise things in two-three days, he added.
Patel exuded confidence that the grand alliance will be able to secure 35 seats in Maharashtra.
Thackeray is known for his anti-migrant rhetoric and for following the "Marathi Manoos" agenda. Last December, while addressing a rally of north Indians in Mumbai, he had said that the migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar should question the leaders in their home states for the inability to push development.
Ajit Pawar, though, is said to be pitching for Thackeray's inclusion in the Opposition front to consolidate the anti-BJP vote.
He had noted that the MNS had secured almost one-and-half lakh votes in the past elections in some of the constituencies in Maharashtra.
There have been reports that Sharad Pawar is also pushing for an understanding with Thackeray's party.
The NCP chief has shared the stage with Thackeray on several occasions recently.
Last October, they had a long conversation during a flight to Mumbai, thereby setting off alliance speculations.
On January, Thackeray invited top political leaders, including Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for his son Amit's wedding.
Sharad and Ajit Pawar too attended the event. Although BJP veteran LK Advani, along with Union cabinet ministers were invited, PM Modi was left out.
It was also reported that Ahmed Patel, who attended the wedding, had a one-on-one meeting with Thackeray at that time.
(With Inputs from PTI and Agencies)