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Maharashtra political crisis: The battle for the real Shiv Sena

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Maharashtra political crisis: The battle for the real Shiv Sena

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray comes out of Sena Bhavan after Shiv Sena’s national executive committee meeting, at Dadar in Mumbai on June 25.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray comes out of Sena Bhavan after Shiv Sena’s national executive committee meeting, at Dadar in Mumbai on June 25. | Photo Credit: PTI

After offering to resign, Uddhav Thackeray has taken the challenge to his leadership head on.

It’s almost one week of the revolt in Shiv Sena and the rebellious Shiv sainiks are sticking to their guns. After the turmoil on June 22 when Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray gave an emotional speech and offered to resign, he has now changed gears and has gone into strategising mode.

Spurred on by the challenge to his very association with the Sena, Thackeray has taken the challenge head on. “He is essentially battling now to save the coalition and his own stake in his family’s control of the Sena. I think it was the challenge that Eknath Shinde gave to Uddhav continuing as Sena chief that really angered him and put him in fighting mode,” says a former Sena Mumbai municipal corporator who is now with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde claim to have possession of the real Shiv Sena. If numbers are the only indication of this, then it seems that Shinde has the advantage because he claims to have more than 35 Sena MLAs with him. But if the emotionally charged atmosphere is to be given credence, Thackeray has an edge.

Both Thackeray and Shinde have taken the fight to the State legislature secretariat and Raj Bhavan. Thackeray has moved out of Varsha, the official residence of the Chief Minister on June 23, leading to wild speculation that the government had fallen. Since Thackeray has not resigned, shifting out of the official residence is still a matter of curiosity and has led many to speculate that it is part of a larger game plan. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has also stepped in and, on the evening of June 24, he met Thackeray at his family residence, Matoshree. While details of this meeting were not made available, the NCP and the Congress have both pledged their continued support to the Thackeray-led Sena. But with 35-plus MLAs crossing over to Shinde, it will be difficult for the MVA to prove its majority on the floor of the house.

After the election in 2019, the Sena had 55 MLAs, the NCP 53, and the Congress 44, giving the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition the majority with 169 in a house of 288 after including support from smaller parties and independents. Currently, the Sena is down to 20 and NCP to 51 since two of its MLAs are jailed and cannot vote. The BJP has 106 members and a few Independents, which takes their strength to 113 and, if Shinde’s breakaways join them, then Maharashtra will have a new government.

There were moves to get Thackeray to renew the old Sena-BJP partnership, but he has refused saying he will not merge with a party that has targeted his family. He sees the current crisis as a personal attack on the Thackerays.

Thackeray has sought the disqualification of Shinde and 15 other party MLAs from the Sena. They, in turn, have responded by questioning the right to remain in office of the NCP’s Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal. Two Sena rebel MLAs, Vinod Agarwal from Gondia and Mahesh Baldi from Uran, wrote to Zirwal saying he had no constitutional right to act against the rebels because his own position was in question. They wrote: “We state that a notice to move a resolution for removal of Narhari Zirwal as Deputy Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, under Article 179 of the Constitution of India… read with Rule 11 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules, has already been submitted, a copy of which has already been submitted to you.”

Referring to a Supreme Court ruling of 2016 on Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix vs Deputy Speaker, Arunachal Legislative Assembly, Agarwal and Baldi’s letter said: “The constitutional purpose and constitutional harmony would be maintained and preserved if a Speaker refrains from adjudication of a petition for disqualification under the Tenth Schedule whilst his own position as the Speaker is under challenge.” Procedure demands that the MLAs whose disqualification is sought be given seven days to respond and the letter demanded that this be followed.

Shinde wrote to Governor Bhagatsingh Koshyari on June 23 saying that his faction had passed a resolution making him the leader and they had also appointed Bharat Gogawale, one of the Sena rebel MLAs, as chief whip. Providing back-up fire is the BJP’s Pravin Darekar, Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Council, who wrote to the Governor on June 24 saying, “in the last 48 hours Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders have passed 160 resolutions. They are ad hoc clearing files which is unethical. The CM has already expressed his willingness to resign following the rebellion within the Sena which has brought the government into a minority”.

While the BJP is keen to draw in the Governor’s office into the crisis, this matter can only be resolved on the floor of the House. Raj Bhavan says it has received only two letters–one from Shinde and one from Darekar.

At a meeting of the Sena national executive committee on June 25 at the Sena Bhavan in Mumbai which Thackeray chaired online, six resolutions were passed. Thackeray’s leadership was asserted by his party members and he was authorised to take all party decisions.

Thackeray has taken umbrage to the name given by the rebels to their new party–Shiv Sena Balasaheb–and said no one should use the Shiv Sena founder’s name.

Shinde has accused the government of withdrawing security for the families of the rebels who are with him in Guwahati. But Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil of the NCP refuted this.

Though the BJP has been restrained throughout this crisis, its involvement is a given. Shinde would never have had the courage to revolt without the political and monetary backing that he obviously has on hand. However, the rebel Sena MLA Deepak Kesarkar from Sawantwadi has asserted that the breakaway faction will not merge with the BJP and that it is not backed by the BJP. But Kesarkar is contradicting what Shinde said about the Sena cutting ties with the NCP and the Congress and moving back into a partnership with the BJP. Shinde had cited this as one of the reasons for rebelling.

The dissatisfaction of the rebels also stems from the fact that the Sena has moved away from its old ways, especially the brand of Hindutva that Bal Thackeray espoused. There seems to be some double-talk here, especially by Shinde. Not only was he close to Uddhav Thackeray, but he was also one of the few MLAs who accompanied Thackeray on his recent trip to Ayodhya. It is also incorrect to say that Thackeray has forsaken Hindutva. In fact, he has maintained an uncomfortable determination to hold on to Hindutva and has expressed a firm commitment to building the Ram temple at Ayodhya.