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Elphinstone stampede: Thackeray cousins make common cause of attacking bullet train

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-09-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Mumbai: Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his estranged cousin and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) counterpart Raj Thackeray made a common cause on Saturday as they blamed the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train for the stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone railway station.

While Raj Thackeray told a press conference that he won’t allow the Modi government to “lay a single brick in Mumbai for the bullet train project unless the basic suburban railway infrastructure was not upgraded”, Uddhav Thackeray revived the age-old Maharashtra-Gujarat debate when he questioned the need for the project that “only connected the rich in Ahmedabad with their counterparts in Mumbai” at the Shiv Sena’s Dussehra rally on Saturday evening.

Raj Thackeray also announced a march on 5 October to the Western Railway headquarters at Churchgate to raise the Mumbai suburban commuters’ issues and oppose the bullet train project.

The Thackeray cousins, feuding otherwise on every issue, chose to attack Modi for the “fanciful” bullet train project.

Uddhav Thackeray also attacked the Modi government on its “bogus Hindutva that protected cows over human beings and female students at the Benaras Hindu University”. Uddhav Thackeray, however, stopped short of pulling out of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

On the contrary, he justified the Sena’s position of staying in power and also criticising the BJP and Modi on issues “as the Sena’s attempt to keep the government in check”. He said the Sena was in power but it was constantly raising issues concerning people. Thackeray also attacked those who have recently joined the NDA including Janata Dal (United) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar saying they had warmed up to the BJP because the party was in power.

The Shiv Sena chief reiterated his criticism of the Modi government’s decisions like demonetisation and introduction of the goods and services tax (GST). But he also gave indications that he had not completely made up his mind over severing ties with the BJP. He said the Sena cadres will continue and even intensify its public agitation on issues like inflation, security of women, basic infrastructure, and farmers issues. But he cautioned the cadres against raising personal slogans against Modi, something that marked a recent Sena protest. He also thanked finance minister Arun Jaitley for accepting the Sena demand that the Sena-ruled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) be directly compensated for the loss of octroi after the introduction of GST.

Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who spoke before Uddhav Thackeray, was nasty in his criticism of BJP and Modi. He said the BJP and Modi were “worse than the Mughals because unlike the Mughals the BJP and Modi were coming on to attack Maharashtra in the bullet train”. Raut described the bullet train as “maut ki express” (express train of death) holding it directly responsible for the death of commuters on Friday.

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