The ongoing political crisis in Maharashtra has now deepened with Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut broadly hinting that the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government, now in a minority, is toying with the idea of recommending dissolution of the assembly. There are indications that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray may resign.
Rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde, along with 40 other dissident MLAs, left Surat in a chartered flight and landed in Guwahati on early Wednesday morning, in order to keep his flock together. The MLAs boarded three buses from their hotel in Surat at around 2.15 am and were escorted to the airport by Gujarat police. At Guwahati airport, the rebel MLAs were welcomed by Assam BJP MP Pallab Lochan Das, and taken to a hotel.
Eknath Shinde, who led the rebellion and broke away with Shiv Sena and other independent MLAs told reporters in Surat and Guwahati that he was still with the Shiv Sena, and it was the wish of all rebel MLAs that Uddhav Thackeray should walk out from Maha Vikas Aghadi, join a coalition with BJP and form a new government.
In Mumbai, hectic talks are going on between NCP supremo Sharad Pawar with his party lieutenants and Congress observer Kamal Nath, amidst reports that several Congress MLAs did not attend a meeting of legislature party this morning. Uddhav Thackeray, down with Covid, held a virtual cabinet meeting in the afternoon, in which 8 ministers of Shiv Sena and allies did not take part. Shiv Sena has issued whip to all party MLAs to attend a meeting on Wednesday evening. The party has threatened to expel them if they failed to attend.
The most intriguing question in the Maharashtra political drama is how Chief Minister Thackeray and his police intelligence had no information about the rebellion, when Eknath Shinde with 35 MLAs went to Surat. This was done in total secrecy, and Thackeray’s lieutenants had no inkling about the unrest. On Wednesday, there were only 17 out of 55 Shiv Sena MLAs present at a meeting called by the CM. Out of them, three MLAs were practically forced to attend the meeting. When it was confirmed that 35 out of 55 MLAs have left the party, alarm bells started ringing, and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, sitting in Delhi, was contacted.
Thackeray sent two of his confidantes, Milind Narvekar and Ravindra Phatak to Surat to persuade Shinde, but they failed. The two leaders persuaded Shinde to speak to Uddhav and his wife Rashmi Thackeray over phone, but the rebel leader was adamant. His only condition: Uddhav Thackeray must snap ties with NCP and Congress, and form a coalition government with BJP. Uddhav spoke to Eknath Shinde for 20 minutes, reminding him of how Balasaheb Thackeray used to help him in the past, but Shinde stuck to his stand.
The rebellion took shape when the Aghadi coalition faced reverses in the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections due to cross-voting. Eknath Shinde was unhappy that he was not consulted by the party leadership during the elections. After the electoral losses, when Shiv Sena leaders contacted Shinde and other MLAs, their phones were unreachable, and it then dawned that the rebel leader has landed in Surat with 35 MLAs. Eknath Shinde told Uddhav and his messengers that Shiv Sena was known as a staunch pro-Hindutva party, and no more compromises with its identity will be accepted. Shinde also said that BJP was Shiv Sena’s natural ally.
Shinde’s rebellion was a double shocker for the Shiv Sena leadership. Uddhav had anointed Eknath Shinde as the leader of Shiv Sena legislature party (from which he was removed on Wednesday), and had given him the Urban Development portfolio. He never imagined in his dreams that Shinde would revolt and bring down his government.
The task to bring back the dissident Shiv Sena MLAs back into the party fold is humungous. The Uddhav-led MVA coalition government needs 145 MLAs to prove its majority, but, after Shinde’s rebellion, it seems to be short of majority.
On Wednesday, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar described the political crisis as Shiv Sena’s internal matter. Pawar had been part of crisis management since the time the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition was formed between SS, NCP and Congress. Pawar said, this is the third time that attempts are being made to topple the government. This time, Pawar does not seem to be quite eager to solve Uddhav Thackeray’s crisis.
The crisis in Maha Vikas Aghadi was expected. The story began three years ago, when the people of Maharashtra had voted Shiv Sena and BJP alliance to power, but Uddhav Thackeray, who wanted to become the Chief Minister, ditched the BJP, and joined hands with NCP and Congress to form the Aghadi (alliance) government. Though the government is now almost three years old, most of the Shiv Sainiks feel that their ideology does not gell with the ideologies of NCP and Congress.
There are many Shiv Sainiks who are openly saying that had Balasaheb Thackeray been alive, he would never have allowed this coalition with NCP and Congress. Moreover, the impression has gone among Shiv Sena cadre that though Uddhav Thackeray is the CM, the reins of power are firmly in the hands of Sharad Pawar. Shiv Sena ministers too felt that NCP ministers are getting more weightage in government.
On the other hand, former CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis could not digest the fact that an SS-NCP-Congress coalition government was ruling the state, despite the people of the state giving the mandate to BJP-SS alliance during the assembly polls. Fadnavis did not lose hope and he targeted the coalition government at every opportunity. In the last few weeks, it was Fadnavis, whose strategy during the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections paid off. Soon after the MLC elections, Eknath Shinde left for Surat with his flock of 35 MLAs, and the state government had no inkling about it.
The utmost secrecy with which this strategy was planned clearly indicates Fadnavis and Shinde were working in tandem. Both of them now hold the ace in their hands, while Uddhav Thackeray is busy trying to save his sinking boat. Uddhav tried his best to persuade, but Eknath Shinde did not budge an inch from his stand that Shiv Sena must ally with BJP. After a gap of three years, the story has now reached the same point, from where it began. Fadnavis may become the chief minister, and it is for Uddhav to decide who will take the initiative: he or Shinde?
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