Bal Thackeray-Chhagan Bhujbal meet sparks political speculation

February 8th, 2009 - 11:36 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Feb 8 (IANS) Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s meeting with Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal here late Saturday sparked off intense political speculation, though Bhujbal said that it was only a courtesy call to inquire after the senior Thackeray’s health.Bhujbal, accompanied by his wife and son, arrived at Matoshri bungalow in Bandra west just before 9 p.m. and was closeted with the Thackeray family for almost two hours.

It was the first meeting between the Sena chief and the senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader after over 18 years. Bhujbal, who was with the Sena for over 25 years, had quit the party in a huff with 18 legislators in December 1991.

Emerging after the meeting, Bhujbal, dismissed all speculation by saying that it was “a get-together” between the two families. He reiterated that the old ‘bitterness’ between the two leaders had ended.

Bhujbal had quit the Sena after differences with the Thackerays in December 1991. In October 2008, he made a unilateral gesture of withdrawing a 10-year old defamation case he had filed against the 82-year-old Sena chief.

Bhujbal’s efforts at mending fences with the Thackerays alarmed many in the NCP, but at his 61st birthday celebrations, Bhujbal emphatically said that he would always remain with the NCP.

The dinner meeting started on an emotional note with Bhujbal touching Thackeray’s feet. The Sena chief in turn chided him in Marathi: “Kiti varshane aala re tu? (You are coming after so many years).” Present were Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray and his wife and children.

Apart from a bouquet, Bhujbal is reported to have carried a wristwatch, some bottles of wine and packets of dates for the Sena chief, a party source said. All the gifts were symbolic - the wristwatch represented the NCP symbol of a clock, while wine and dates are Thackeray’s favourite.

However, nobody is really in the know of what really transpired at the private dinner where a lot of bonhomie was displayed between the Thackerays and Bhujbals.

With the general elections round the corner, the dinner meeting assumes significance on various counts. For instance, NCP chief Sharad Pawar enjoys a great rapport with the Sena chief and had met him a few months ago at Matoshri.

Recently, Shiv Sena openly offered to support Pawar as prime minister if such a situation develops after the next elections - annoying many within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its saffron alliance partner.

Pawar, however, played down the meeting tonight - “What is wrong if Bhujbal meets his erstwhile mentor? In fact, Thackeray had invited me too, but I could not make it,” he told mediapersons in Satara late Saturday.

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