Rebel Shiv Sena MLAs return to Mumbai after 11 days, show of strength with BJP
Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde led his army of 50 fellow breakaways back home to Mumbai 11 days after they had fled the city for Surat, creating a vertical split in the Shiv Sena and the subsequent collapse of the 31-month MVA government.
Along with 38 Sena rebels, there were 2 MLAs from Prahar Janshakti Party and 9 independents with Shinde on the Spicejet flight that landed from Goa on Saturday evening. Upon arrival they were billeted at the same south Mumbai five-star hotel where the BJP MLAs have been kept ahead of the 2-day special Assembly session that begins on Sunday. The MLAs were then coached about the voting process for the Speaker’s election and floor test which threaten to be complicated on account of both the Shiv Sena and the Shinde faction issuing separate whips and being represented by two different legislative party leaders, both claiming to represent the ‘real’ Shiv Sena. Eknath Shinde himself is the legislative party leader of his faction while Uddhav Thackeray has appointed Ajay Choudhari as the legislative party leader who replaced Shinde after he revolted.
The joint meeting of the MLAs was addressed by Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis.
In the meeting, Fadnavis is reported to have said that the true Sainiks of Shiv Sena Balasaheb Thackeray were siding with the BJP. Shinde added that the situation had come about as the Shiv Sena leadership had not heeded the sentiments of the MLAs and thanked Fadnavis and the central BJP leadership.
“The chief minister said the BJP-Sena government has finally been formed in the truest sense. We have fulfilled the dream of Balasaheb (Thackeray). I had told Uddhav Thackeray about our discomfort but was not successful in convincing him. Such a situation arises when the leadership fails to pay heed to their MLAs,” said a rebel, not wishing to be named.
BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar said the MLAs were informed about the election process for upcoming election for Speaker’s post. “They were told that the election will be held through a voice vote or they may have to stand up to vote for their candidate if asked,” said Mungantiwar.
Earlier on Saturday, Shinde told the media in Goa that the Shiv Sena’s whip will not apply the rebels. “We are going to Mumbai and will face the Speaker election tomorrow (Sunday). The whip (issued by Shiv Sena) is not applicable to us because we have a two-third majority.”
The tussle for brand Shiv Sena has just begun. On Friday Uddhav Thackeray removed Eknath Shinde from the post of leader in the party. The Shiv Sena national executive has 12 leaders and Shinde was one of them. Thackeray also publicly denounced Shinde and the rebels as ‘non-Sainiks.’ Deepak Kesarkar, spokesperson of the Shinde camp said Thackeray’s decision to remove Shinde as party leader will be challenged in court.
“Shinde saheb has been removed from the party leader’s post but the notice or letter served to him is objectionable in nature and thus we will send them an official reply. We are also considering the legal route,” he said.
The conundrum that lies at the heart of this fratricidal war was further underscored when Kesarkar said that the rebels will not speak out against Uddhav Thackeray as they still respect him calling him the leader of the party. “We still believe that he is our leader and respect him, and we do have answers to all his questions but will not like to reply to him now but there is a limit to everything,” he cautioned.
While Sunil Prabhu, the Shiv Sena whip has directed legislators to vote for their nominee Rajan Salvi as Speaker on Sunday, Shinde camp’s whip Bharat Gogawale has directed the rebels to vote for BJP’s Rahul Narvekar as Speaker. Any legislator defying the party’s whip stands to be disqualified from the party. The issue of whose whip is legally valid will also come into play when the floor test for the Shinde government takes place on Monday.
“Both the camps have issued whips. It is our contention that the chief whip of the party is appointed by the party president and our party constitution too provides for this. On the other hand, the Eknath Shinde camp claims that since they have the majority in the legislative party, appointment of the whip is their prerogative,” said a senior Sena leader. “Who is legally correct will eventually be determined by the Supreme Court.”
The Speaker’s election is necessitated as the post is vacant following the resignation of Nana Patole, who took over as Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) chief.
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