Rajís vice-president, from UP: I am as Marathi as the locals

As the angry Maharashtra Navnirman Sena activists assault North Indians and smash taxi windscreens, one senior MNS functionary stands out. That is 39-year-old Vageesh Saraswat, vice-president of the year-old party, a close confidant of Raj Thackeray. He belongs to Uttar Pradesh.

Born in the small hamlet of Swadeshpur, 25 km from Aligarh, which sees a daily migration of hundreds into Mumbai, Saraswat is a poet whose poem Eklvya ka Angutha floored Raj Thackeray. Back in 2005, Thackeray thought the lyrics perfectly reflected his mood and sentiments as he looked at beating a political path of his own. And that is how a journalist and poet became the party's vice-president.

Representing a party in the news now for flexing its muscles against Mumbai's huge North Indian community and "migrants", Saraswat tries to defend his boss: "His statements in Marathi have been wrongly translated by the media. There is nothing objectionable or wrong in his original statements."

According to Saraswat, Raj Thackeray only noted that Amitabh Bachchan had not chosen Mumbai, the city that earned him his star status, to contest elections. He chose instead to contest from UP, to be a brand ambassador of "that state". "Look at Rajnikanth who, despite having been born in Maharashtra, has become a superstar in Tamil Nadu, because he has accepted the state and its language. We support such people," Saraswat says.

He also adds that Raj Thackeray is not really opposing the Chath Puja. "He is opposing the politics being played out by a few, who use the platform for a show of strength," Saraswat says, noting that there are 70,000 Hindi-speaking MNS activists like himself who are "here for Raj Thackeray" and "for developing a new future for the state and the city".

"We are a regional party which does not want to spread outside the state. We do not believe in regionalism but we do believe that if one is coming to Maharashtra, why not accept it by heart and why remain a migrant for ever?" he asked.

... contd.

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