Less than 24 hours after former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray resigned while addressing the people of the State via a Facebook link, Eknath Shinde, the leader of the rebels, was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra at the Raj Bhavan.
For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), widely believed as the party which engineered the Sena revolt, the rebel MLA numbers were adequate. On June 28, Devendra Fadnavis had met Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and asked him for a floor test. The next day, Thackeray offered his resignation to the Governor.
In the hours leading up to the swearing-in ceremony, everyone was kept guessing about who the Chief Minister would be: Eknath Shinde or Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP. Finally, a terse note from Raj Bhavan announced that it would be Shinde. The ceremony itself was brief, with Shinde taking oath as Chief Minister, followed by Fadnavis as Deputy Chief Minister. The 39 MLAs who helped bring about this remained in Goa. A video showed the MLAs dancing in their Goa hotel prior to the swearing-in. One even climbed on top of a table and pranced about.
The culmination of events has resulted in more questions being thrown up than answers. Is Shinde still a member of the Sena? When the Shinde-led government elects its whip, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena will have to follow the directions issued. Who owns the Shiv Sena? It appears that the decision lies with the Election Commission. Will there be a new election soon? After all, this is not a democratically elected government, in the same way that the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) was also not a coalition that was elected by the voters. But there is one vital difference. When Uddhav Thackeray broke away from the BJP in 2019 and joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to form the MVA, he did so because of a breach of promise. He says there was an agreement to share the Chief Minister’s post over the five-year tenure. The BJP has refuted this.
The current change in government appears to be an act of revenge. The BJP had vowed in 2019 to oust Thackeray. For the last 31 months, the party appeared to focus all its efforts on destabilising the government.
In the last week of the MVA government, Thackeray made frequent appeals to the rebel Sainiks to have face-to face talks. He said if it was matter of the Chief Minister’s post, then he was willing to let another Sena Minister have it. But it was deeper than that. Shinde, it would seem, became a willing tool for the BJP to overthrow Thackeray and the MVA. Exactly what Thackeray was offering came to pass–a Sena Minister was made the Chief Minister but with the vital difference that his partner in government is the BJP.
The Hindutva plank is being pushed by the rebels and the BJP. They called the Sena’s alliance with the NCP and the Congress “unprincipled”, that by tying up with two secular parties, the Sena was setting Hindutva aside. Yet, Thackeray has stood firmly by Hindutva. He supports the construction of the temple at Ayodhya and went there a few months ago. Ironically, he was accompanied by Shinde on this trip. Thackeray has also never failed to say with pride that Shiv Sainiks were among those who climbed the Babri masjid dome and helped demolish it. Thackeray did not seem to have abandoned Hindutva.
By making Shinde the Chief Minister, it seems that the BJP has learnt from 2019 when it broke its promise to the Sena of sharing the chief ministership equally in the five years of rule. This time, too, it was believed until the very last minute that the BJP’s Fadnavis would be made Chief Minister for the second time in his career. Perhaps Shinde raised objections and the BJP, loathe to lose out a second time, gave in despite having the support of 119 MLAs as opposed to Shinde, who claims to have a total of 50.