Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday took pot shots at ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over several issues, including GST and demonetisation, and said he has lost faith in the BJP-led central and state government in the past three years. His strong BJP bashing came in his customary, annual birthday-eve interview series to the party’s publications, ‘Saamana’ and ‘Dopahar Ka Saamana’, the first part of which was published on Sunday. Thackeray, who turns 57 on July 27, spoke on various issues with Saamana Executive Editor, Sanjay Raut, a Rajya Sabha MP.
Q: You seem upset with the Goods & Services Tax implemented this month..?
Thackeray: “Upset? It’s a complete mess. We won’t keep quiet. We were the first to point out how GST will hit the people. Now, they must decide whether to bear it beat it. See, in Gujarat small traders took to the streets opposing GST and they were mercilessly beaten up.
“We have opposed GST, since under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, everything is sought to be ‘centralised’. Is this a true democracy? Unlike the former Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, who implemented Panchayati Raj right at the grassroots level,” Thackeray said in the first salvo against the government.
He claimed the Shiv Sena managed to ‘save’ Mumbai and 27 other municipal corporations in the state by getting reimbursement of the losses they suffered due to the closure of the Octroi checkposts after GST was implemented from July 1.
He urged the government to ascertain whether its policies are for the overall common good or not and cited the example of last year’s demonetization.
“Just today, I read that 1.50 million people lost jobs directly due to demonetization, meaning six million (dependents) will suffer a hit. Who will provide for these six million their daily ‘dal-roti’?”
He pointed out how he was the first to speak out against demonetization as it created immense hardships for the masses, they stood for months in queues, many died, but nobody bothered.
Q: “You speak the truth, but you will be treated as a ‘traitor’?”
Thackeray: “So what? Ask the people losing their jobs who is the real ‘traitor’. I am not talking about Modi, but the government machinery. Whenever SS speaks anything, it’s considered ‘anti-government’. But that is wrong, we are always with the people.”
Thackeray said though he was not an economist, he could clearly sense the sufferings of the people, who after paying income tax, GST and other levies, have hardly anything left in their hands.
Pointing out a possible security issue, Thackeray said when Octroi checkposts existed, all vehicles entering Mumbai were checked for the goods they were carrying. But with GST this had stopped, he said.
“Nobody knows what is being brought into Mumbai or who’s sitting in those vehicles,” Thackeray said, reiterating the tensions on the country’s borders and attempts to instigate the Muslims.
Q: “Have you lost faith in the government?”
Thackeray: “How can we trust them? Its ‘obvious’ since whenever we spoke out on any issue, it was misinterpreted as being ‘anti-government’.”
To a question on what else is going on in the country, Thackery shot back: “Fog chal raha hai. (Fogg is in vogue, referring to a perfume ad). In short, things are hazy, the situation has not changed much compared to last year, whether after demonetization, GST or on the country’s borders.”
When pointed out that the mood in the country indicates that “all’s well”, Thackeray shot back: “That is only in government advertisements. If we believe them, then all problems in the country are solved! Actually, problems seem to have been resolved merely in government ads!”
He pointed out that all these years, Maharashtra topped in farmers’ suicides and even now it continues at the top; and though farm loans waiver has been announced it is not yet implemented.
Asked how many farmers are eligible for the loan waivers, Thackeray sarcastically replied: “This is like Modi’s claim that 20 million (two crore) people have given up gas subsidy. Where is the list, who are these people, how many really gave a ‘missed call’ to give up gas subsidy – does anybody know for sure?”
Similarly, the Maharashtra government has said that 36 lakh farmers will get farm loans waiver and a total 81 lakh will benefit.
“I demand that the government must table the full list of these (36 lakh and 81 lakh farmers) before the legislature. Then people will know the truth.”
On the farmers suicides and their demands, Thackeray said: “We can’t keep seeing farmers’ suicides with eyes wide open. I will take up their cause as we’re their voice in the government. So far, we only beating drums (outside banks). We are prepared to beat anything else.”
The second instalment of Thackeray’s marathon interview is to be published on Monday.