‘We’re Balasaheb's staunch Shiv Sainiks': Eknath Shinde breaks silence
Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde broke his silence Tuesday afternoon hours after reports that he and around 20 MLAs had decamped to BJP-ruled Gujarat, triggering speculation of instability within Maharashtra's ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
Shinde's tweet indicated that he and the 'rebel' MLAs remained 'staunch Shiv Sainiks' and that he would 'never betray the ideals of Balasaheb (Thackeray, the Sena founder) for power'.
"We are Balasaheb Thackeray's Shiv Sainiks. Balasaheb has taught us Hindutva. We have never, and will never betray, the ideals of Balasaheb and teachings of Dharmveer Anand Dighe for the sake of power," Shinde tweeted.
Shinde - an influential leader from the Thane region - has been removed as Shiv Sena's leader in the Maharashtra assembly. He has been replaced by Ajay Chaudhari - a MLA from Mumbai.
The Congress, meanwhile, has deputed senior leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath to handle the crisis in Maharashtra, where it and the Shiv Sena (and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party) are part of the government.
Shinde - a minister in chief minister Uddhav Thackeray's government - went incommunicado earlier today - just a day after legislative council elections in which the MVA suffered a setback. The BJP won five of 10 seats, while the Sena and NCP claimed just two each and the Congress one.
The BJP later claimed that cross-voting from Sena and Congress leaders helped its cause.
It is believed a delegation of Shiv Sena leaders, including a senior figure and close aide to Uddhav Thackeray may travel to Surat to ty and meet Eknath Shinde.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar has offered his support to the Sena and attacked the BJP for attempts to destabilise the MVA. "This is the third such incident that has happened in the last two-and-a-half years," he said, adding, "Eknath Shinde has never conveyed to us he wants to be chief minister."
Pawar called this mess an 'internal issue of Shiv Sena' and said, "... Whatever they decide we're with them. We don't think there is any need for change in the government.”