Following a bitter split from the Shiv Sena in 2006, Raj Thackeray founded the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a political party aimed at “sons of the soil” and the “Marathi manus” (Marathi community). Despite occasional electoral wins since then, the MNS never became a political force in the State, unlike the original Sena that his uncle Bal Thackeray founded and his cousin, Uddhav Thackeray, now leads. The MNS suffered humiliating defeats in the 2014 general election as well as in the Assembly polls. Out of the 288 Assembly seats, it won just one. Its general election tally was zero. The downfall continued in the 2017 civic polls. Stung by the 2014 defeats, Mr. Thackeray has remained silent for three years.In an exclusive interview, he says the MNS chief regrets endorsing Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the 2014 general election. For the first time, he has spoken openly against what he calls “BJP’s gimmicks”. He insists that forceful imposition of Hindi is wrong and that he admires the southern States for their stand on the Centre’s push for Hindi as a link language. He has also made a startling claim that wanted terrorist and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim wants to return to India in exchange for a deal with New Delhi.You have claimed Dawood Ibrahim wants to come back to India and is negotiating terms with the Centre. How do you back this claim?It was not out of nowhere. The Prime Minister performs such gimmicks to win elections. He invited the Japanese Prime Minister to Gujarat to inaugurate the bullet train project. This is to score in the Gujarat elections. As per my information, Dawood himself proposed the deal, and talks are on with New Delhi. Don’t expect me to reveal my source. Dawood is only a part of a grander scheme. I think they will not hesitate to wage war against Pakistan or incite communal riots. What else do they have in hand to win elections?But why would an elected government do this?To win elections. Why else? India has voted many times on emotional content. I ask you, what happened in Doklam? Does anyone know the outcome, and why it happened at the first place? Divert attention to such things, while you get to do what you want on the other side. The media gets busy, and the discourse shifts. Is there anything else (for the BJP) other than these issues to attract votes? There isn’t.In 2013, you spoke in favour of Mr. Modi. What went wrong in 2017 that you have changed your stance?I speak when I find things going wrong. I am doing the media’s job. Are reporters and editors speaking against the government? They can’t. Because the government holds the financial strings of their owners. I know editors and reporters who are desperate to expose the government, but they cannot. I had seen Mr Modi as a visionary Prime Minister. But to be frank, he is a leader who organises events. Be it yoga, cleanliness drives, Make In India, or something else. The government is working as an event management company. Are you saying your support of Mr. Modi was a mistake?When I supported his candidature, he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. But since then he has acted exactly the opposite. Prior to becoming the Prime Minister, he opposed GST and protested against Aadhaar. Now, he has implemented GST as well as forced Aadhaar down everybody’s throat. The grand promise of giving Rs 15 lakh to every Indian citizen was termed “jumla” (election gimmick) by (BJP president) Amit Shah. One feels Mr. Modi lied to voters to grab power, and now does not even feel ashamed of admitting it. Demonetisation was announced to unearth black money. If 99% of the cash is back in bank accounts, then where is the black money? Has corruption or terrorism stopped? Which black money hoarder is behind bars? If the BJP is against corruption, then where does all this money for advertising, election campaigning come from? BJP men are arrested with cash, but news reports are suppressed. The point is, it takes time to know the real face. I am saying it now, maybe others will express it later. I don’t oppose Mr. Modi as an individual, my opposition is policy-based.But he succeeded in the perception game with demonetisation and voters supported BJP in State polls.If you are talking about votes, then the electronic voting machine (EVM) is a big issue. The nation has never seen a bigger stage show than this. Never ever has the BJP had so many votes. Where did all these voters come from? I can understand one wave. But how can it be constant? In the traditional ballot box, the voter is certain that he or she has voted for a particular person. But what about these EVMs? How would one know? A number of people have approached courts. I am sure something positive will come out of it. MNS suffered a major setback in 2014 and it is yet to regain lost ground. How do you see this period?Every party suffers from highs and lows. Unfortunately, we are in the latter phase. Then there are those who jump from one party to another. They are merely hawkers who peddle their loyalty. But it is not constant. Did the BJP look invincible four years ago? Politics is not a cricket match, where a player would get an opportunity within a few days. We have to wait for five years. Mr. Modi contested a strategic election where Rahul Gandhi (Congress vice-president) was no match. In addition, Mr. Modi had the financial support of the wealthy Gujarati and Marwari communities.You recently changed from being against the Hindi-speaking population to opposing Gujaratis. Do you fear this stand will affect MNS electorally?Let me be very clear. I have not jumped from Hindi to Gujarati. I am pro-Marathi, as always. People should respect the State they reside in. Everything cannot be acquired through money. If they have money power, my strength is my power on the streets. Is this country left for businessmen only? Tell me the need for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. What type of development are you talking about? And for whom? For Gujaratis of Gujarat and Mumbai? And we will spend ₹1.1 lakh crore on them. Don’t we understand the politics behind it? The pledge we take in school where we call all Indians brothers and sisters is a lie. Had it been the case, then we would not have seen colonies of particular communities with builders selling flats to select people. This was never the condition in Mumbai and Maharashtra until a few years ago.Do you oppose BJP’s idea of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan?Yes. India is more like Europe. Just like each country in Europe, every State in India has its own culture, language and traditions that need to be preserved. Like Europe, what binds us is currency. Take any language, be it Marathi or Tamil or any other, it has a history of thousands of years, unlike Hindi which is barely a few hundred years old. A conspiracy to claim every Indian as ‘Hindi Hindu’ is in progress. We cannot allow this. There could be Marathi Hindu or Tamil Hindu and so on; but one cannot make blanket imposition of Hindi on the entire country. All Hindus cannot be Hindi. Who are you to tell us to use Hindi? We will not follow your rules. If forceful action is taken to wipe off our distinct identities, then people are bound to hit the streets. This will result in chaos.Are you ready to join hands with organisations from others States on this issue?Of course. Every State language has to be preserved. Hindi is not our national language. English and Hindi are official languages for communication. That’s it. I am not opposed to any language, but any attempt to sideline my language by imposing another will not be tolerated. If there is a platform to oppose this, I am ready to be a part of it to save my language. My stand is clear from the start, and that is why people from Karnataka and Assam approached me recently. I extended my support. Do you fear it will go against the national interest?I believe in India and I am patriotic as much as any other person. But isn’t it also our duty to protect the diversity of this country? If actors, players, authors from southern States hit the street on issues important to their State, why can’t our celebrities do the same? If you remember, I said in 2014 that Mr. Modi should concentrate on the development of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand for the next five years. A lot of problems would have been solved. If every State concentrates on individual development, it will help the country as a whole.How do you see present the BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra?Their divorce papers are already in the court, waiting to be signed. The State is witnessing these husband-wife fights every day. I don’t even need to comment on this. I see a vacuum of strong Opposition, which will be filled eventually. I will be that force. One may not agree now, but my claims have always proven right.