Maha crisis: BJP troika helped Shinde shift rebel MLAs out of state on the sly

Updated on Jun 25, 2022 09:13 AM IST

When Eknath Shinde began his political coup to topple the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government by breaking away from Shiv Sena, three second-rung leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) played a crucial role behind the scenes

Ravindra Chavan HT Archives
Ravindra Chavan HT Archives
By, Mumbai

When Eknath Shinde began his political coup to topple the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government by breaking away from Shiv Sena, three second-rung leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) played a crucial role behind the scenes.

From arranging the logistics to marshalling their workers to shift the Sena dissidents from Mumbai to Surat and then to Guwahati, BJP legislators Ravindra Chavan and Dr Sanjay Kute and party youth leader Mohit Kamboj completed an otherwise cumbersome task.

The BJP, however, has claimed ignorance of its leaders’ involvement in the operation.

Chavan and Kute, who were ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government, are said to be in the Guwahati hotel with the rebel MLAs though HT could not independently verify it.

The choice of the troika was deliberate, a senior BJP leader said. “It would not have been appropriate to let senior leaders from the state like Chandrakantdada Patil [state BJP president] or Girish Mahajan [former water resources minister] take the initiative and be seen with the Sena defectors.”

The leader, who requested anonymity, claimed that Shinde had contacted the BJP high command in Delhi before putting his plan into action. The state leadership was roped in at a later stage.

The whole exercise – to ease the rebel MLAs out of the city – was so swift and secret that even the intelligence unit of the state police could not get a whiff of it.

“The operation needed utmost secrecy, resources – right from transport to accommodation – and security arrangements. It needed a lot of planning in a short period and access to various authorities – from Gujarat to Assam. The trio had been tasked with making all the required arrangements,” another BJP leader said.

Chavan, whose family hails from Sindhudurg, is a three-term MLA from the saffron stronghold of Dombivali. A Maratha, he had begun his electoral career as a corporator in the Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation in 2005 and was the chairman of the standing committee.

In 2009, he was first elected to the assembly. He was initially close to senior leader Vinod Tawade but later switched his loyalties to then chief minister Fadnavis. He was made a minister of state in 2016 and also held charge for the party in the civic polls in Mira Bhayander, Thane, and Navi Mumbai.

A BJP MLA said the selection of Chavan for this mission could have been driven by his knowledge of Sena and its strong-arm tactics. “Chavan has grown up in Bhandup, which has a strong presence of Sena, and knows the party’s style of working and how it deploys its muscle power.”

The legislator, who did not wish to be named, said Chavan has a good relationship with Shinde and both have major political stakes in Thane. “This relationship may have made it easy for him to coordinate with Shinde… It must be noted that they are friends on equal terms.”

Shinde’s son Shrikant is the Sena MP from Kalyan under which Chavan’s constituency falls.

Kute, an Ayurvedic medical practitioner and Other Backward Class leader, has been representing Buldhana’s Jalgaon-Jamod in the assembly since 2004.

Kamboj, who hails from Varanasi, was the president of the Indian Bullion and Jewellery Association, and apart from the jewellery business, has stakes in sectors like real estate and entertainment. Last year, Kamboj changed his surname to ‘Bharatiya’.

The BJP has washed its hands off the matter. Some senior legislators claimed to be unaware of the extent of the involvement of these three leaders in the nitty-gritty of this operation.

“The BJP has no link with the events that are unfolding in the state,” Patil said.

He, however, said, “Mohit [Kamboj] is everybody’s friend. Like he is a worker and leader of the BJP, he is also a friend of Shinde. Shinde may have told him; I am alone here, you please come down.”

Attempts to contact Chavan, Kute, and Kamboj proved futile. While Chavan and Kamboj were unreachable, Kute’s aide said he was busy and declined to confirm whether the MLA was in Guwahati.

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