Mega twist in Maha plot: Eknath Shinde takes oath as chief minister

Updated on Jul 01, 2022 05:30 AM IST
The development brings the curtains on the experiment that was the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance and puts under immense pressure Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who now faces an unprecedented crisis in retaining the reins of a party shaped around his father.
Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde (L) took oath as the new chief minister of Maharashtra, while BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as the deputy chief minister. (PTI)
Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde (L) took oath as the new chief minister of Maharashtra, while BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as the deputy chief minister. (PTI)

A political drama for the control of Maharashtra that began with a surprise flight of MLAs from the state capital nine days ago concluded on Thursday in a twist few foresaw – rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde was sworn in as chief minister, with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy.

The development brings the curtains on the experiment that was the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance and puts under immense pressure Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who now faces an unprecedented crisis in retaining the reins of a party shaped around his father.

The swearing-in also brought the BJP back into power, with the state coming almost a full circle when Fadnavis unsuccessfully attempted to engineer a breakaway within the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and take the CM’s seat in 2019. There was one key difference, however. Unlike that 80-hour coup, it is Shinde, not Fadnavis, who is now in the hot seat.

Also Read | Eknath Shinde, Devendra Fadnavis face tough balancing act in role reversal

On Thursday morning, Fadnavis appeared set to begin what would have been his third term until he held a press conference later afternoon, when he announced Shinde will take the top position and that he will not join the government, but support from outside.

Within two hours, however, BJP president JP Nadda announced in Delhi that he had “personally requested” Fadnavis to join the government as Shinde’s deputy. Union home minister Amit Shah then took to Twitter to thank Fadnavis for “deciding to be part of the government”.

Shinde, a four-time MLA, began his oath by paying tributes to late Shiv Sena leaders Bal Thackeray and Anand Dighe, his political mentor in Thane district. “Development of the state is my priority. I will take all sections of society along with me,” Shinde said after the swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan shortly after 7.30pm.

He also accused Uddhav Thackeray of ignoring the interests of party MLAs and their constituencies and attributed that as at the chief reason for his revolt.

It was barely 24 hours earlier when the fate of the power struggle – triggered by Shinde when he left with a group of MLAs to Surat on June 22 – was sealed after the Supreme Court rejected the Thackeray camp’s petition to halt a floor test slated for Thursday.

It had become inevitable that the Thackeray camp would have lost the floor test after the ranks of the breakaway faction grew to surpass the 37-mark, giving the flock the legal ability to defect without being disqualified, and a prior disqualification notice being put in abeyance by the top court, which could have otherwise reduced the Shinde camp’s strength.

Following Wednesday’s court order, Thackeray resigned late in the evening.

Immediately, Fadnavis was seen as the person who would become CM again, with the BJP having more MLAs in the house.

Also Read | Maharashtra crisis: Conceded CM’s chair but key portfolios to remain with BJP

But in what turned out to be a political masterstroke, the BJP decided to side with Shinde – a decision that will allow him to stake his claim on the mantle of the Shiv Sena, dent Thackeray’s ability to hold on to his bastion in Mumbai in the upcoming civic polls, and most importantly, rob him of his biggest argument against the rebellion: that the BJP would never make a Sainik the CM.

“The decision to make Shinde chief minister instead of Fadnavis was taken after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray made an emotional appeal through his online address. There was feeling among the top brass that Thackeray could get sympathy due to his decision to quit following the rebellion,” a top BJP leader said on Thursday, asking not to be named.

The rebel Shiv Sena MLAs were still in Goa on Thursday evening, after arriving from Guwahati on Wednesday night. There were visuals of them dancing in delight as their leader took the top job.

A two-day special session of the Maharashtra legislature will be held from July 2, and the BJP and Sena faction will now need to prove they have the numbers in a floor test.

Taking a dig at Fadnavis, NCP president Sharad Pawar said in Pune that the BJP leader did not seem to be happy taking over as deputy CM. “According to me, it does not seem that Fadnavis has accepted the number 2 position (deputy chief minister) happily. His facial expression said all. He is from Nagpur and he has worked as a swayamsevak with (RSS) and there, when the order comes, it has to be followed,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said rebel MLAs have chosen their own way and there would be no hindrance from the party in the path of the dissidents associating themselves with the BJP as he once again targeted the breakaway group.

He also tweeted an image of a man in a white kurta pyjama, who is presumably dressed like Uddhav Thackeray, with blood oozing from a wound on his back. “This is exactly what happened,” Raut tweeted, alluding to the dissidents who switched sides.

The Congress hit out at the BJP. “The offices of the governors and speakers, and agencies like ED and CBI are openly misused. Buying MLAs has become so commonplace that the Finance Minister blurted out the truth today, when she suggested imposition of GST on horse-trading,” Congress’s communications chief Jairam Ramesh said in a statement on Thursday.

“This is a strategic design to finish off Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. By making Shinde the CM, it has been made easier for him to effect a vertical split in the party,” said Thane-based political analyst Prakash Bal. “Now the Shinde camp will be able to prove that this was the real party and their whip should prevail in no-confidence and the Speaker’s election. This has been BJP’s design all across the country. Secondly, according to my information, the BJP leadership was not keen on making Fadnavis the next CM for various reasons. On the other hand, it would not be easy even for the faction led by Shinde to survive in the company of the BJP,” he added.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Shailesh Gaikwad is senior associate editor, Hindustan Times. He heads the political bureau in HT’s Mumbai edition. In his career of over 18 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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