Mumbai, Jun 21: Maharashtra’s ruling alliance on Tuesday battled its worst crisis since coming into existence in 2019 after senior Shiv Sena minister Eknath Shinde rebelled against the party and herded some MLAs to BJP-ruled Gujarat, putting a huge question mark on the stability of the two-and -a-half-year old Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
Here are the Highlights
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray launched a damage control exercise and sent an emissary to Surat, where Shinde is camping with dissident Sena MLAs in a hotel, to meet the rebel leader and also spoke to him over the phone to try defuse the crisis, which erupted hours after the Legislative Council polls, which saw the opposition BJP managing to get its fifth candidate, possibly due to cross-voting in its favor from the ruling bloc besides support from Independents and MLAs of other parties.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut claimed 14 to 15 Sena MLAs, including some ministers, are with Shinde in Gujarat’s Surat city. However, another party leader said the number could be 23. Raut alleged two of the MLAs, including Nitin Deshmukh, have been beaten up and he has suffered a heart attack.
The Shiv Sena, which heads the MVA, has 55 MLAs, followed by NCP allies (53) and the Congress (44) in the 288-assembly where the current simple majority mark is 144.
There is one vacancy due to the death of a Sena MLA last month. The current strength of the Assembly is 287.
Fifteen independent legislators and MLAs from smaller parties support the MVA government, taking the number to 167.
The BJP has 106 MLAs of its own and is backed by one lawmaker each from the Raj Thackeray-led MNS, the Swabhimani Paksh, the Rashtriya Samaj Paksh, the Jan Surajya Party and six independents, taking its tally with allies to 116.
To circumvent the anti-defection law, Shinde, considered No. 2 in the party, will need two-thirds of the 55 Sena MLAs which comes to 37, on his side.
The crisis comes in the backdrop of repeated reverses faced by the Uddhav Thackeray-led dispensation in polls – first in the June 10 elections to the Rajya Sabha and then the Legislative Council, results of which were declared on Monday night.
The jolt from Shinde, known to be a very accessible leader with a strong grip on the organisation, especially in Thane, Palghar and Gadchiroli districts, left the party scrambling. The sudden disappearance of Shinde and some party MLAs prompted Chief Minister Thackeray to call an urgent meeting of party legislators and leaders at ‘Varsha’, his official residence, in south Mumbai.
All through the day, party managers engaged in establishing communication with the rebel leader, who went incommunicado on Tuesday morning and later surfaced in a luxury Surat hotel, but nothing concrete seems to have come out so far.
Thackeray sent his confidant Milind Narvekar and Shinde’s close aide Ravindra Phatak to mollify the leader. Later, a leader close to Thackeray said the CM spoke to Shinde over the phone, but did not elaborate further.
The party swiftly moved against Shinde (58), an MLA from Thane district, and removed him as the party’s group leader in the Legislative Assembly and replaced him with Ajay Choudhury.
Party workers protested outside the Shiv Sena Bhavan against Shinde dubbing him a “traitor”. Hundreds of Shiv Sena workers gathered outside the Sena headquarters to express solidarity with beleaguered party president Uddhav Thackeray.
“We are in touch with many MLAs. Many had left for their constituencies, but they could not make it (to Mumbai). But we are in touch with the MLAs and some of them are traveling back,” said a Sena leader.
Without naming his boss Thackeray, Shinde took to Twitter, his only comment so far since the crisis broke on Tuesday morning, and said he will never “cheat for power” and abandon the teachings of party founder late Bal Thackeray.
“We are staunch Shiv Sainiks of Balasaheb who gave us lessons on Hindutva. We will never cheat for power and will never abandon the teachings of Balasaheb and Anand Dighe for power,” Shinde tweeted in Marathi.
The late Dighe, a Shiv Sena stalwart from Thane, was the political mentor of Shinde.
The rebel MLAs, reportedly unhappy with the Sena leadership, arrived in Surat on Monday night and are camping at the Le Meridian Hotel in the diamond city, sources said.
A Congress minister said Shinde has been restless for the past week and claimed the Sena stronman, who holds the urban development deparment with a Cabinet rank, wanted the deputy chief minister’s post. NCP leader Ajit Pawar is currently the deputy chief minister.
Meanwhile, the police have increased security outside his private residence in Thane.
The dramatic turn of events came hours after results of polls to the Legislative Council, which saw the Shiv Sena-led MVA losing one of the six seats it contested, to the opposition BJP.
Chief Minister Thackeray, Congress leaders Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan and NCP state president Jayant Patil (all three are also cabinet ministers) met on Tuesday evening to discuss the evolving situation and find a way out of the turmoil.
The Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP, all MVA partners, have blamed the BJP for the current crisis.
Sena MP Raut, however, asserted the BJP’s attempt to destabilize the MVA government, which came into existence in November 2019, will not succeed.
Speaking in New Delhi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose party is the second largest constituent in the MVA, said there is an attempt to pull down the Maharashtra government, which he said is happening for the third time. He said CM Thackeray will handle the political crisis and described it as an “internal matter” of the Sena, which snapped its ties with the BJP and joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to form the MVA government.
Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil ruled out any link of his party to the ongoing political turmoil, but added the opposition outfit would “definitely consider” a proposal if it comes from the rebel leader to form an alternative government.
Story first published: Wednesday, June 22, 2022, 0:56 [IST]