Maharashtra govt in crisis, loses touch with minister, over a dozen lawmakers
The Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government was in crisis after it “lost touch” with minister Eknath Shinde, who was in Gujarat’s Surat along with over a dozen lawmakers, in what it called was an attempt to bring down the state’s coalition government.
Shinde, a mass leader from Thane, was reported out of reach with the party hours after the state legislative council election concluded on Monday. Shiv Sena’s two candidates got 52 votes though the party was expecting 64, which included 55 of its own and those of independents and smaller parties. At least 12 of the 64 lawmakers were believed to have cross-voted.
The ruling coalition partners Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Congress got 169 votes in the 2019 trust vote in the state assembly. On Monday, the three parties managed 150 votes in the council polls. MVA has 169 members in the state’s 288-member House while the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 113.
Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has called an urgent meeting of Shiv Sena leaders and legislators to discuss the crisis.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, who cancelled his Delhi visit ahead of the meeting at Thackeray’s residence, acknowledged some of their lawmakers were out of Mumbai and that efforts were being made to bring down their government like in Madhya Pradesh. “...Madhya Pradesh pattern cannot be replicated in Maharashtra. You cannot be the kingmaker in this manner," said Raut.
The Congress lost power in Madhya Pradesh to the BJP after 22 lawmakers quit and brought down chief minister Kamal Nath’s government in 2020. The rebel Congress lawmakers later joined the BJP.
Raut said some lawmakers went to Gujarat without knowing where they were being taken and added Gujarat BJP chief C R Patil was making the arrangements for them. “We know who is behind this.” He insisted Shinde was not upset with the party leadership. “He was with us, working to get our candidates elected in the council elections. He is a staunch Shiv Sanik.”
Raut slammed the BJP for destabilising Maharashtra. “We have got in touch with Shinde. We are also getting in touch with lawmakers. Many lawmakers want to come back but they are not allowed,” said Raut. “We are confident that all the things will be sorted.”
Shinde was expected to hold a press conference in Surat around noon. The number of Shiv Sena lawmakers camping there could be more than 20, people aware of the matter said. Security was being tightened at the hotel where the Shiv Sena lawmakers were staying.
BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar denied Shinde was in his party’s touch. “[...] we have nothing to do with him being not reachable to his party leadership. We definitely are watching the situation very closely. We will take the required steps whenever it will be required in the interest of Maharashtra. This was bound to happen one day as Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray betrayed the people’s mandate given in October 2019 [assembly polls]. We had been warning them about the discontent among the people over such betrayal, but they did not pay heed to it.”
Shiv Sena ended its decades-long alliance with the BJP and formed the government with NCP and Congress in 2019.
Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said the party will definitely think about forming the government if any such proposal comes up. “It will be too premature to comment on the possibility of steps in near future. What is happening in Sena is their internal matter and we do not want to speak on it.” He added the BJP has no role in Sena lawmakers being unreachable to their leadership. “Shinde may have some well-wishers in Gujarat and he may have taken their help. I do not know if our Gujarat state chief is one such well-wisher.”
Chandrakant Patil added what has happened is because of MVA leadership’s failure in taking all along while running the government.
Sena leaders, who did not want to be named, said they are trying to figure out how many lawmakers were with Shinde. Those out of touch and believed to be with Shinde included Sanjay Rathod, Sanjay Shirsat, Sanjay Raimulkar, Sanjay Gaikwad, Mahendra Dalvi, Bharat Gogavale, Mahendra Thorve, and Balaji Kinikar.
Pratap Sarnaik, the Sena lawmaker from Ovala-Majiwada in Thane, was also unavailable. But his son, Purvesh, said his father was with the Sena.
The BJP won all five council seats it contested in a setback to the ruling coalition. Two candidates each of Shiv Sena and NCP won while Congress managed to bag just one seat due to cross-voting. BJP fielded five candidates while the Sena, the NCP, and the Congress two each for the 10 council seats. The BJP had enough numbers to get four nominees elected easily. Its fifth candidate Prasad Lad, too, made it to the Upper House of the state legislature after securing support from lawmakers outside his party’s pool.
The BJP earlier this month managed to win a third Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra despite lacking numbers in the assembly.