Two rebellions that reshaped the contours of Maharashtra politics
After Eknath Shinde split the Shiv Sena in June last year, Ajit Pawar on Sunday led the second rebellion by swearing-in with eight NCP colleagues.
A year after the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray saw a split after the rebellion of Eknath Shinde with his 40 supporters, Ajit Pawar has led the second rebellion by swearing-in with eight of his party colleagues. His aides claim they have almost the same number of NCP MLAs with them.
In a span of a year, the BJP has managed to engineer two splits in two regional parties in Maharashtra that were strong. While Uddhav Thackeray has even lost the party, it is not yet clear what will happen in case of the NCP — just like Eknath Shinde, Ajit Pawar has claimed that his is the original party.
“The roots of the two splits were sown in 2019. NCP chief Sharad Pawar took initiative and formed the opposition coalition Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi to keep the BJP out of power. Uddhav Thackeray joined in his efforts. The leadership of the BJP had then decided to punish both of them — and make both the leaders powerless. It has happened now in a span of one year,” said a top state BJP leader, seeking anonymity.
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Ajit’s rebellion is similar to Shinde’s: Form a group of majority of MLAs, declare support to the government with the BJP, claim to be the original party. While Shinde succeeded in taking control of the party, what happens in the next few days will decide whether Ajit manages to get the NCP, formed by his uncle in 1999.
Chief minister Shinde, who was urban development minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government, walked out of the government on June 20, 2022, the day of the legislative council elections that saw cross-voting by the ruling party members. The rebellion was believed to have been handled by the BJP’s central leadership, especially Union home minister Amit Shah and was in making for months before it, party leaders in the know of the matter indicated.
According to party insiders, the success of the rebellion by Shinde and his men was important for the BJP because of the failed attempt to form a government with Ajit Pawar in November 2019. “The central leadership not only ensured that Shinde had a sizeable number of MLAs with him, but also managed the split by over two-thirds of the members. This gave the rebellion firm legal ground, though the Sena cadre was not fully with him,” a BJP minister said.
Ajit’s rebellion is the second attempt by him after the first failed bid in November 2019. His claim after his rebellion — that he is part of the NCP and his is the real party — will have to be substantiated with numbers. He will have to get the support of at least 36 MLAs from the party to avoid action under the anti-defection law. The first rebellion in November 2019 when he was sworn in as deputy chief minister was derailed by party chief Sharad Pawar. The Supreme Court order over the floor test went in favour of the MVA, which was in the making at that point of time. Ajit Pawar faces the same challenge now to prove his majority within the party.
“Ajit began mobilising MLAs in April-May. Unlike in 2019, several senior MLAs such as Chhagan Bhujbal and Dilip Walse-Patil as well as senior leaders such as Praful Patel stood by him. Pawar’s resignation drama turned out to be a setback in getting MLAs on his side. He has not declared how many MLAs have signed their letters of support this time though his aides insist it is close to 40 out of 53 party MLAs,”said a senior NCP leader.
While Shinde succeeded in getting hold of the party, it may not be so easy for Ajit. The Supreme Court in its verdict on the split in Shiv Sena, observed that the strength of elected representatives was not enough to decide who would have the control of the party. It means Ajit will have to show the support of the majority of the party organisation on his side. It could be a tough challenge for him.
Both, Shinde and Ajit will have to go to the people for their support.
“More than who orcheastrated the splits and who benefited from them, the betrayal of the voters and their mandate is more worrisome today. The voters are upset with every party as they have betrayed their mandate, the trust. The voters want fresh elections to be held in the state. The first rebellion of Shinde happened out of the revenge politics of BJP to teach Thackeray a lesson, while the second has been engineered after the BJP realised that the Shinde faction was has not been able to perform to expectations,” said Mumbai-based political analyst Prakash Akolkar.