Unfazed by all-round criticism for blackening Sudheendra Kulkarni's face for his refusal to cancel Pakistan's former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri's book launch, Shiv Sena today likened the ORF chief to 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab.
The Sena, a junior partner in the BJP-led governments in Maharashtra and at the Centre, also locked horns with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for criticising it, saying he had "failed to understand Maharashtra" and that his condemnation of the incident brought the state "a bad name".
Continuing with its shrill anti-Pakistan stance, a day after the paint attack on Kulkarni triggered outrage, Shiv Sena said India faced greater threat from people like the Observer Research Foundation chairman than extremists and terrorists.
"The real threat to the sovereignty of our nation is not due to extremists or terrorists, but people like Kulkarni. People like him are out to cut the neck of our nation.. When there are people like him present here, Pakistan does not need to send people like Kasab for terrorist activities," the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece 'Saamana'.
"An atmosphere has been created where it now seems that Khurshid Kasuri is a messenger of peace or a Mahatma and the Sena has committed a crime by opposing him. However much we are criticised and maligned, we will not change our stand against Pakistan," it said.
Having defiantly gone ahead with the launch of Kasuri's book 'Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider's Account of Pakistan's Foreign Policy' despite the unseemly incident, Kulkarni today made a pitch for freedom of expression.
"I have been labelled a Pakistani agent in Sena mouthpiece 'Saamana'. I respect their freedom of expression. They should also respect others' freedom of expression," Kulkarni told a press conference.
"When it is said I am a Pakistani agent, I say yes, I am an agent but an agent of peace and will continue to be one," he said.
The Sena, whose relations with senior partner BJP has been under strain for quite some time now, also assailed Fadnavis over his criticism of its attack on Kulkarni.
"The CM says that our state has got a bad name due to our agitation against Khurshid Kasuri. This shows that he failed to understand Maharashtra. His statement and his support (to Kasuri) has actually brought us a bad name," Sena MP Sanjay Raut told a press conference.
Meanwhile, six Shiv Sena activists who had been arrested yesterday for blackening Kulkarni's face, today met party chief Uddhav Thackeray at 'Matoshree', his Bandra residence.
"As soon as Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face was blackened, he immediately put his photos on social networking sites and alleged that the Sena was behind the attack. We agree with his allegations. Being patriotic and securing our country is Maharashtra’s work and we are doing our work," the Saamana editorial said.
"It would have been better if the security provided for Kasuri was used to protect the citizens of Mumbai. They (the government) only stopped short of calling the army to protect him.
"Who is this Kasuri ? Today, he speaks a different tone but while he was in government, he was instrumental in bringing all separatists together against India," it said, flaying the Fadnavis government for the stringent security at the book release function that prevented the Sena from carrying out the threat of disrupting it.
Raut was even more hard-hitting in his criticism of Fadnavis when he said his statements made in the aftermath of the attack on Kulkarni amounted to insult to martyrs.
"The Chief Minister has insulted the martyrs like Tukaram Omble who died while fighting Pakistani terrorists (referring to 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks) by asking policemen to provide security to a Pakistani. His (Fadnavis') statements have insulted Chhatrapati Shivaji's Maharashtra," he said.
Fadnavis, while disapproving of the Sena's protests had said last evening that it brought disrepute to the state which cannot be allowed to be reduced to a "banana republic".
"We cannot endorse Kasuri, but can't let our state turn into banana republic. The rule of law has prevailed. I think the way things have happened has brought a bad name to our state. There could have been better ways to put forth a point of view," he had said.
Kulkarni, who has served as speech writer to BJP veterans Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani, was all praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"From the day he assumed office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun efforts to usher in a new beginning in South Asia," he said in response to a question and added "both the sides (India and Pakistan) want the dialogue to go ahead".