‘Everybody is free to take own decision', Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said on Saturday on reports that Bal Thackeray's daughter-in-law Smita Thackeray was on way to joining Congress.
"I am not going to say anything on the issue. I will continue doing my work," Uddhav Thackeray said.
Asked to comment on Smita's interview to a newspaper, Uddhav said, "Let her decision, whatever it is, be announced, then I will speak."
In the interview to Times of India, Smita Thackeray had said she is upset with Sena and gave indications that she is keeping her options open including joining Congress.
"She is not involved in power struggle. She wants to move forward in politics. But there was no good response from Shiv Sena to her desire. It is not that she has left the Shiv Sena, but her options are open," her son Rahul told reporters outside their residence.
48-year-old Smita Thackeray had said in the interview: ``I have become a big admirer of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and want to be part of the good work being done by them for the country.''
The report says, the reasons for Smita's decision are two. One, she feels the Shiv Sena is being unfair to Maharashtrians with its parochial and divisive politics and two, she was being systematically marginalised by powerful elements in the Thackeray household.
``I cannot stand the suffocation any more and have decided to join the Congress, which has a national and global vision. I now feel most comfortable with the Congress ideology.''And there was more gushing praise for the first family of Indian politics.
``I personally admire the way Soniaji has been leading the party and the country. Even though Rahul is maintaining a low profile, he too is doing enormous work for the nation,'' she said.
Smita said she was in touch with senior leaders of the Congress in New Delhi, and it was only a question of time before she formally stepped into the party. She is likely to call on Sonia Gandhi and Rahul in the capital soon. For the Congress it will be a prize catch, and indications are that Smita will be given an important post in the organisation.
A politically ambitious person, Smita was a power centre in Maharashtra when the Sena-BJP alliance came to power in 1995. Several IAS, IPS officials and businessmen waited on her, seeking some favour or the other. The perception was that she was the person closest to Balasaheb.
``The fact that I am Saheb's daughter-in-law certainly helped. In fact, I owe everything to him and continue to hold him in high regard. But over the years, I found that certain elements in the household, who shall remain unnamed for the present, were seeking to marginalise me.''
She accused other Thackeray loyalists of trying to hurt her in several ways. ``They tried to dent my identity as a social activist and film producer. People in Bollywood used to get calls from these people, warning them against any association with me,'' she said.
Smita said that her father-in-law, who was earlier very supportive, himself failed to keep his promises to her. ``I was promised a berth in the Rajya Sabha, but I was shocked when I learnt that my seat had been given to journalist Bharat Kumar Raut. In the assembly election too, I was promised a ticket, but it was denied to me for no apparent reason. One of my articles was published in the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna. But when I took the second article to Balasaheb, who is the editor, he refused to publish it. I got the message that I was not wanted any more, and tore up the article on the spot. It is painful to politically dissociate myself from the Sena, but I have no choice,'' she said.
Smita, who is the estranged wife of Bal Thackeray's son Jaidev, said she never considered the MNS an alternative since she did not agree with Raj Thackeray's politics.
``I am extremely proud to be a Maharashtrian,'' she said. ``I speak only in Marathi with my two sons at home. In fact the first film being produced by my son Rahul, who has trained in film-making in Toronto, is in Marathi. But I want Maharashtrians to change with the changing times. English is today a powerful tool of communication. Even the Chinese are realising this. I want Maharashtrians to be exposed to the literature of not only P L Deshpande, but also of Premchand and other great writers in other languages. I am against attacks on fellow Indians and the damaging of public property.''
Smita wrote an article in a Marathi daily recently advocating her views on language, and said she received ``over 200 emails'' from Maharashtrians endorsing her views. Asked for her views on Uddhav, she replied: ``I think Balasaheb gave him a big post too early. He should have been trained in politics before being given such a huge responsibility.''
Even though she lives in a spacious bungalow in Juhu, Smita retains her room in Matoshree, the Thackeray home in Bandra East. Since she is the first Thackeray to join the Congress, does she fear the consequences? ``I have an identity of my own and am old enough to take decisions for myself. I do not fear anyone,'' she answered firmly.
Hussain Dalwai, a spokesperson of Maharashtra state congress on Saturday confirmed that Smita Thackeray may soon join the party.
"Smita Thackeray is on way to joining the Congress," MPCC Spokesperson and former minister Hussain Dalwai told PTI.
Asked when would Smita, a film producer and social worker, join Congress, Dalwai said, "I cannot tell exactly when she would join but she is on way to joining the party".
The MPCC spokesperson said, "The fact that Smita is on way to Congress shows that after Bal Thackeray there is no one in Sena whose leadership people trust." A member of Thackeray joining Congress is a significant development, he said.
"Anyone who is ready to abide by the ideology of the party and has faith in leadership of Sonia Gandhi is welcome in the party," Dalwai added.
Smita Thackarey's son Rahul told reporters outside their residence on Saturday that her mother has kept all her options open and those included joining the Congress.
"She is not involved in power struggle. She wants to move forward in politics. But there was no good response from Shiv Sena to her desire. It is not that she has left the Shiv sena, but her options are open," Rahul said.
He was replying to questions on media reports that Smita, estranged wife of Jaydev Thackeray, was all set to join Congress, whose leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi she has praised.
Rahul said that his mother was out of town and has asked him to meet the media on her behalf but he was not in a position to reply to all the questions.
He said that his mother has all the respect for the Shiv Sena supremo and has not said anything against him. Asked whether she was joining Congress, he said that it was not that she had left the Shiv Sena, "but her options are open".
"My mother is not unhappy with Thackarey, who is not only her father-in-law, but a father figure to her. She has all the respect and faith in him. She does not intend to hurt him in any situation", Rahul said.
"As of now she needs to be level-headed, so does everyone else......She will answer all your queries when she returns. What her views are will be clarified by her", he said.
He, however, declined to answer a volley of questions from reporters saying he was "not at liberty" to say anything more than what his mother has told him.
Congress on Saturday said the intention of Smita Thackeray to join the party reflected the growing "disenchantment and disillusionment" of every Indian with Shiv Sena.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, however, declined to comment on Smita joining the party, saying "it is a decision to be taken by other bodies" in the party. He described Shiv Sena as a "party of the past, ignoring the present and undermining and sabotaging the future". PTI