Maharashtra crisis: Shinde camp consolidates as Uddhav reaches out to cadre

Updated on Jun 25, 2022 06:45 AM IST

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government continued to rest on knife’s edge as the rebels, led by state urban development minister Eknath Shinde, saw their ranks boosted by the entry of Dilip Lande.

Shiv Sena workers take part in a protest rally against rebel party leader Eknath Shinde, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, on June 24, 2022.(PTI)
Shiv Sena workers take part in a protest rally against rebel party leader Eknath Shinde, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, on June 24, 2022.(PTI)
BySwapnil Rawal and Utpal Parashar, Mumbai/guwahati

A fight for control of the Shiv Sena that will determine the future of the Maharashtra government took centrestage on Friday as the rebel camp moved to gain legitimacy and forestall disqualification bids, while chief minister Uddhav Thackeray sought to mobilise party workers.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government continued to rest on knife’s edge as the rebels, led by state urban development minister Eknath Shinde, saw their ranks boosted by the entry of Dilip Lande. They now have 38 lawmakers, one more than the 37 required to legally break away from the party though they have not moved out of Guwahati for three days now.

The rebel camp wrote to acting speaker Narhari Zirwal, saying Shinde will be their elected leader in the legislature. Two independent lawmakers backing them also gave notice to move a motion of no-confidence against Zirwal, who belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and accepted a Sena proposal to disqualify 16 rebel MLAs over Thursday night and Friday morning. The acting speaker — Maharashtra has not had a full-time speaker since 2020 — also upheld the election of Ajay Chaudhari as the Sena floor whip, replacing Shinde.

“Out of 55 Shiv Sena MLAs, 40 have come with me to Guwahati. In a democracy, the majority and numbers count. So nobody has the right to take any action against us,” Shinde was quoted as saying by PTI on Friday.

Filing the notice of no-confidence, independent MLAs Mahesh Baldi and Vinod Agrawal saidthat “a notice to move a resolution for removal of Narhari Zirwal as Deputy Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly under Article 179 of the Constitution of India read with Rule 11 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules has been submitted.”

The Shinde faction further said that the deputy speaker will not have any authority to decide on any application pending before him “whilst a motion for his own removal is pending”.

The Sena, meanwhile, said that the rebels “closed the door on themselves”. “We have written to the deputy speaker and had requested disqualification of the 16 members. As per the law, they would have to respond to it in the next 48 hours,” said Arvind Sawant, Sena MP. “The rebel camp has closed the door on themselves. As per the law, the two-third faction cannot become a separate group. They will have to merge themselves with some party.”

The arrival of Lande moves the Shinde camp past the two-thirds majority mark, which is required under the anti-defection law to legally break away from the parent party.

There was no immediate response to HT’s requests for comments from Lande.

Despite haemorrhaging support, Thackeray appeared to be in a combative mood in Mumbai, and issued a second emotional appeal in as many days. Holding back tears, he spoke to district chiefs of the party, and his son, Aaditya Thackeray, met leaders at Sena Bhavan as both tried to shore up ground support. Many Sena workers vandalised posters of Shinde and his supporters in Mumbai on Friday.

“The Thackerays and Shiv Sena cannot be separated ever,” the Sena chief said. “I challenge you (Shinde camp) to run Shiv Sena without Balasaheb’s photo and Thackeray’s name,” he added.

Speaking to party functionaries, Aaditya said that the party does not want people with a “price tag”, in a reference to the alleged exchange of money between the rebel camp and a “national party” Shinde alluded to on Thursday. “My mother (Rashmi Thackeray) said that had the allies betrayed us, it would have been understandable, but those who we considered our (own) have done this,” he said.

In the evening, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, deputy CM Ajit Pawar, minister Jayant Patil and NCP leader Praful Patel drove to Matoshree — where Thackeray moved after vacating the chief minister’s residence two days ago in a dramatic late-night decision — for a meeting with the CM. The meeting lasted for over two hours.

In a second address late in the night, Thackeray made a veiled attack on Shinde. “In the last five years (including the term of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis), he (Shinde) was given a big portfolio. I gave him the urban development department which has traditionally been with the CM. While I kept departments like law and judiciary, general administration, and information and technology, and the additional charge of the forest department. What else could I do? His son is an MP, but my son shouldn’t progress?” the CM asked.

The Shiv Sena has called a meeting of its national executive at 1pm on Saturday and in a late-night move, decided to hit the streets. The meeting will be held at the Sena Bhavan, and the CM is expected the join the meeting virtually.

The party has also planned a gathering of party workers at the Birla Matoshree auditorium, where Aaditya is set to address Shiv Sainiks, Sena functionaries said.

Party leader Sanjay Raut expressed confidence that MVA government would win the floor test in the Assembly.

“We will win on the Floor of the House, we won’t give up. They (MLAs) have taken a very wrong step. We also gave them a chance to return to Mumbai. Now, we challenge them to come to Mumbai,” he said.

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. The Sena, on the other hand, has only lost support — a total of 38lawmakers have deserted it since Monday — even as Raut and some loyalists have said they remain unfazed.

But the rebels have camped in Guwahati, refusing to engage with Sena attempts to bring them back to Mumbai — even after Raut said on Thursday that the party was willing to discuss its future in the MVA if the rebels came back. The rebels have moved to consolidate their strength, challenge the removal of Shinde, and go by the book in avoiding disqualification. Speculation swirled that the Shinde faction wants to lay claim to the emotive Sena name and its iconic symbol — but that may prove more difficult.

“The anti-defection law and getting the symbol and name of the original party are two separate issues, decided by two separate entities. If a faction has two-thirds strength of the original party, then you don’t attract disqualification under the anti-defection law. But for that faction to get the name and symbol of the original party, it has to approach the election commission, which has its own process to decide on this matter. The anti-defection law is decided by the speaker and the name and symbol is decided by the EC,” said Chakshu Roy, head of legislative and civic engagement, PRS Legislative Research.

The 58-year-old Shinde is a Sena strongman who rose through the ranks in the 1980s and became the de facto number two in the party cadre after the death of founder Bal Thackeray. But the rise of a new guard of more moderate faces in the party, led by Aaditya Thackeray, may have left him and other members of the old guard (who were more intimately tied with right-wing and hardline regional politics) disenchanted, especially after the Sena broke its 25-year-old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019.

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 (of this, two people, Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh, are in jail, and therefore, will likely not be allowed to participate in assembly proceedings), 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.

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