With the Mumbai civic polls less than a fortnight away, the Shiv Sena is turning up the heat on its friend-turned-foe BJP by hinting at the mass resignation of its ministers, a move that would jolt the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government.
Party sources said the Sena’s ministers in the state government may submit their resignation letters to their chief Uddhav Thackeray on February 18, the day of his last public address in Mumbai before the February 21 BMC polls. Party sources said the move is aimed at generating buzz among the Sena’s Marathi voters and at the same time creating a public perception that the party is capable of pulling down the BJP government in the state. “We need to send such a strong signal because we are in a close fight with the BJP in a number of electoral wards in Mumbai,” said a key Sena functionary.
The move is also being seen as a way to discourage the BJP from using its position in power to keep Sena workers under pressure from the local administration or the police, he said. During the Kalyan-Dombivli civic polls, the Sena had accused the police of being harsh on its workers.
However, the move does not mean the Sena will pull out of the BJP-led government immediately. Thackeray will weigh his options before taking any such decision and a lot would depend on the outcome of elections to 10 civic bodies and 25 district councils in the state, that will reveal the direction in which the wind is blowing. He would also take into consideration the results of the Uttar Pradesh election, which is likely to have an impact on national politics.
Significantly, Thackeray has gone on record saying he needs breathing space to take an informed decision about whether to continue his party’s support to the BJP in the state.
However, the party is attempting to push the BJP, its arch rival for the civic election, in a corner, with the Sena’s ministers in the state cabinet brandishing their resignation letters in public, and saying they are ready to tender them the moment their party chief says so.
BJP leaders called this a pressure tactic saying it was unlikely the Sena would pull out from the government any time soon.
Buzz about the Sena ministers resigning began on Wednesday evening with reports that four of its ministers would meet Fadnavis late at night.
The ministers – transport minister Diwakar Raote, industries minister Subhash Desai, minister of state for finance Deepak Kesarkar and environment minister Ramdas Kadam – met Fadnavis, but handed him a memorandum demanding a loan waiver for Maharashtra’s farmers after the BJP promised a farm loan waiver in its manifesto for the UP Assembly elections.
However, on their way inside the chief minister’s official residence, some ministers also flashed their resignation letters before the media.
Raote said, “We have our resignations ready. We will put in our resignation the moment our party chief says the word. He has made us ministers, so he will decide when to pull out.”
Sena’s Ramdas Kadam said he has been carrying his resignation letter in his pocket like all other Sena ministers. “We have even been sleeping with our resignation letters next to us. At the time of the state Assembly elections, the BJP stabbed us in the back even though the Sena supported the party for 25 years. The BJP took our help, our votes, but later turned against us. It is not a friend. It is not trustworthy. We are not desperate and should not drag ourselves after them. Our request to Uddhavji is to remove the crutches. Let the chief minister know exactly where he stands,” Kadam said. He, however, did not comment on whether the ministers will submit their resignations to the Sena chief on or before February 18.
If at all the minister submit resignations on this day, the Sena chief may choose to keep mum until after voting is carried out on February 21 and elections are announced on February 23.
“This is a ploy to show the Sena has the guts to pull out of the government. The timing is conveniently on the last day of their campaign rally. Why don’t they tender resignations now? Things will get clear after the BMC poll results and UP poll results. Depending on our performances, each party’s strategy will get shaped,’’ said a senior BJP functionary.
Fadnavis had earlier said his government was not in any danger for five years — until it completes its tenure.
If the Sena withdraws its support to the BJP, the Fadnavis government, which otherwise completes its term in 2019, may have to brace for early elections unless it takes the aid of parties such as the NCP. After it came to power, the BJP proved its majority on the floor of the House with the NCP giving it outside support by remaining neutral during the confidence motion.
In 2015, too, the Sena had attempted similar posturing ahead of the high-decibel Kalyan-Dombivli municipal corporation election. Sena minister Eknath Shinde publicly tendered his resignation from the government in a rally on the last day of campaigning for the polls, which the BJP and Sena contested separately in a shrill highly-competitive fight. It was ultimately rejected by Thackeray.
The Opposition slammed the Sena ministers’ statements as a gimmick. Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant said, “The ministers who flaunted their resignation letters for publicity before meeting with the chief minister should ideally quit the government on the issue of a loan waiver for farmers.”