Fight over Sena control deepens crisis in Maharashtra
The crisis first broke out on Monday night after the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) suffered a setback in the legislative council polls, a week after a similar debacle in the Rajya Sabha polls.
The national executive of the Shiv Sena on Saturday passed a resolution that no other political outfit can use its name or that of its founder, late Bal Thackeray, while a group of rebel legislators, led by dissident MLA Eknath Shinde, said it has named itself Shiv Sena (Balasaheb).
Reposing its faith in chief minister and party chief Uddhav Thackeray, the executive, which met for an emergency session in Mumbai, also passed a resolution authorising Uddhav to take necessary action against the “traitors”. The party, however, did not take any immediate action against Shinde.
Moving the proposal over the party’s name, Sena parliamentarian Arvind Sawant said: “Shiv Sena and Balasaheb are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated. Therefore, nobody except the party (Sena) can use Shiv Sena and Balasaheb Thackeray.”
“No other political party or group can stake claim to these names,” said MP Anil Desai, adding that the party has written to the Election Commission of India on this issue.
The Shiv Sena national executive meeting is usually held every five years, with the next scheduled for 2023. But on Friday, party president Uddhav Thackeray called for an emergency meeting following Shinde’s revolt. The extent to which Shinde has damaged the party was evident from the depleted numbers that attended Saturday’s meeting. The last executive meet in 2018 was attended by 282 functionaries. On Saturday, there were only 245 people present.
The Shiv Sena also passed a resolution reaffirming its ideology as a son-of-the-soil (Marathi Manoos) party as well as its allegiance to Hindutva. “Shiv Sena will continue to uphold the ideals of Balasaheb Thackeray and the party has not diluted or compromised with Hindutva in any way,” said party spokesperson Sanjay Raut after the meeting.
A total of six resolutions were passed at the meeting, including one congratulating chief minister Thackeray for leading Maharashtra efficiently during the Covid-19 pandemic and for the development works carried out in the last two and a half years, Raut said.
Thackeray, who tested Covid-positive last week, had planned to participate in the meeting virtually, but ended up attending it. Unlike Friday’s addresses, Thackeray struck a far more aggressive note speaking to his party’s core leadership team. “The leaders who have left the Shiv Sena are now on their own and should not seek votes either in the name of the Shiv Sena or Balasaheb Thackeray,” Raut said, quoting the CM.
Calling the crisis in the party a battle between “truth and lie”, Shiv Sena leader and state minister Aaditya Thackeray said: “We will win and the truth will prevail. This is a battle between truth and lies.”
The executive also resolved that the party will contest all coming local body elections. Elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will be crucial for the Sena which considers Mumbai its citadel.
Aaditya, the chief minister’s son, also held a meeting with Sena workers from south Mumbai to rally the party cadre.
The day ended with several meetings among the constituents of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state as the future of the ruling coalition hung in balance with a fight for control of the Shiv Sena intensifying.
The rebel faction, camping in a Guwahati hotel, also held a meeting, following which rebel MLA Deepak Kesarkar said that the faction led by Shinde – the state urban development minister -- has formed the outfit Shiv Sena (Balasaheb).
Addressing a virtual media briefing, Kesarkar said the rebel leaders had not quit Sena but they intended to form a separate group as they had a two-thirds majority of the MLAs with them. “We are still with the Shiv Sena and continue to be members of the party,” said Kesarkar, who represents Sawantwadi in Sindhudurg district.
Shinde has the support of 38 lawmakers, one more than the 37 required to legally break away from the party.
The senior leader, along with 15 other rebel MLAs, has been issued summons by the Maharashtra legislature secretariat, seeking written replies by June 27 on disqualification notices filed against them.
The day’s developments in Maharashtra were followed by hectic consultations in the Shinde camp in Guwahati.
Following reports of the Sena resolutions, Kesarkar said, “We have not sought votes in the name of anybody; the elections are about two and half years away. There is a demand in our group that the name of our outfit should be Shiv Sena - Balasaheb, but now they are saying we cannot use ‘Balasaheb’ so we will only use Shiv Sena,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Shinde shared a copy of a letter written by him and 37 other MLAs to the Maharashtra CM on Friday, accusing the state government of “illegally and unlawfully” withdrawing the security provided to the dissident leaders and their families in “an act of revenge”.
“We state and demand that the security which we are entitled to under protocol should be provided to our families with immediate effect. If any harm were to come to our family members, the Chief Minister and leaders of the MVA government will be responsible for the same,” the letter read.
Maharashtra home minister Dilip Walse Patil, however, refuted the allegations.
“Neither the Chief Minister nor the Home Department has ordered the withdrawal of security of any MLA. The allegations being levelled through Twitter are false and completely baseless. No MLA’s security has been withdrawn. Keeping in view the prevailing situation, the Home Department has decided to provide security at the residence of MLAs to keep their families safe,” said Patil.
The rebel camp also tried to dispel accusations that their stay in Guwahati and travel on chartered flights from Gujarat and Maharashtra in the past few days was sponsored by the BJP. The party is in power in both Gujarat and Assam.
“No party is paying for our expenses. Our leader (Shinde) called us and we came. BJP is not behind all of this,” Kesarkar told ANI. According to people familiar with the matter, the rebel camp has extended its reservations at the Guwahati hotel by two days till June 30.
The BJP, meanwhile, has said it has no role in the political crisis unfolding in the state.
Union minister Ramdas Athawale, who met Fadnavis and other state BJP leaders earlier in the day, said, “He (Fadnavis) said that we do not have anything to do with the internal conflict in Shiv Sena.”
The MVA government does not enjoy a majority in the state, Athawale told reporters.
“Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde has support of more than two-third MLAs, thus reducing the MVA government to a minority. So many MLAs have left MVA - 37 from Shiv Sena and 7-8 Independents, how can Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and Sanjay Raut say that they will show the majority?,” he asked.
The Congress, a constituent of the MVA, said the coalition is not in minority.
“Today in the meeting, we had a discussion about the current situation. Our government is not in minority,” Maharashtra Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat said after a meeting of state party leaders.
There are 288 members in the state assembly, of which one seat is vacant. The effective strength of the House, therefore, is 287. The Sena has 55 members, the NCP has 53, and Congress 44. They have the support of three smaller parties and nine independent members. Together, the MVA has 166 members.
The BJP has 106 lawmakers. It is backed by two smaller parties and four independents. Together, its strength is 112.
The crisis first broke out on Monday night after the MVA suffered a setback in the legislative council polls, a week after a similar debacle in the Rajya Sabha polls. Shinde took some loyalist MLAs and drove to Surat from Mumbai. Since then, the rebels have only gained in strength as they moved to Guwahati under police protection in two states ruled by the BJP.
(With agency inputs)