Haji Arafat Shaikh, also a staunch critic of the Saamana group, joined the Shiv Sena Sep 9, party leaders said Thursday.
Shaikh was the vice president of the MNS and the party’s most visible ‘minority face’.
He left the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena after alleging that Raj Thackeray had “lost his mental balance” over his contradictory utterances and because the MNS was “sidelining Muslims”.
Shaikh’s entry into the Shiv Sena received a guarded response, especially since the party’s Hindi mouthpiece Dopahar ka Saamana had called him “Haji Paji” and a “dacoit”, when he joined the MNS after it was founded March 9, 2006.
His decision to join the MNS had led to heartburn as his uncle Shabbir Shaikh was a prominent Shiv Sena Muslim leader and also a former cabinet minister in the party’s coalition government with the Bharatiya Janata Party during 1994-1999.
Shaikh hit back by filing a defamation suit against Saamana group publisher Subhash Desai, editor late Bal Thackeray and executive editor Premkumar Shukla.
Shaikh thanked Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and hinted that he would soon be given “an important responsibility” in the party .
“About the defamation case, after an apology, it was settled and withdrawn,” Shaikh said.
However, Dopahar ka Saamana executive editor Shukla had a different take.
“That is not correct. The case is still continuing in the Bhoiwada court and some of our top leaders have also appeared in it. The factual position is he has not withdrawn the case so far,” Shukla said.
However, Shiv Sena leaders said efforts are underway to ensure that Shaikh withdraws the case as soon as possible.
“It may have been political expediency to admit Shaikh to the party but other outstanding issues like court cases against the very same party cannot be tolerated,” said a Shiv Sena leader requesting anonymity.
For the Shiv Sena, Shaikh may prove to be a formidable catch. He has the backing of over three million Qureshi clan members in the state besides the nearly million-strong transporters’ unions.
Some reports said Shaikh may be made the chief of the Shiv Sena transport wing before the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra.