‘Ready to resign’: Uddhav Thackeray gets emotional in televised address to the people of Maharashtra

Published : Jun 22, 2022 21:39 IST

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray virtually addresses the people of the State, in Mumbai on June 22.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray virtually addresses the people of the State, in Mumbai on June 22. | Photo Credit: PTI

Uddhav Thackeray’s address to the people of Maharashtra on the evening of June 22 started off listing the achievements of his government, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, then went on to assert that Hindutva was the lifeblood of the Shiv Sena and the party would never desert it. This was in reaction to the rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde saying that Sainiks were disillusioned with Thackeray leaving the Hindutva ideology that his father Bal Thackeray had promoted.

Thackeray was, surprisingly, dismissive of the numbers game, saying he was not interested in how many Sainiks were in Surat or Guwahati (where the rebels have been kept hidden). He said that he had done his duty as Chief Minister despite having no experience and that he had done it to the best of his ability. He had fulfilled his duty and had been true to Bal Thackeray’s Sena. “If my Sainiks think I’m no good as Chief Minister, then come and tell me to my face and I will resign. My resignation letter is ready. I will hand it to you. I’m not going to fight for the Chief Minister’s chair. But I want to tell all Sainiks this. Remember that it is the Sena that has made you what you are.”

There were two masterstrokes here. One was his offer to tender his resignation letter to his party men and not to the Governor as protocol demands. By saying this, he implied that being a Shiv Sainik was paramount over and above everything else. What he left unsaid but was heard loud and clear was that if you were a rebel Sainik, then you were no longer a Sainik. That cuts deep with the Shiv Sena. The other brilliant stroke was his last line: “Remember, it is the Sena that has made you what you are.” It’s the sort of line that brings a low growl of anger among Sainiks against the rebels.

The speech could be dismissed as politically naive. If it was meant to garner public support, then it was probably successful because Thackeray reinforced his reputation as a straight talker. But this was not the only purpose because the public has little say in what happens next in the political game. And why was Thackeray asking a dissenting Shiv Sainik to ‘tell him to his face’ that he was not worthy of leading the Sena?

Simple and naive as it may sound, there is actually an admirable subtlety in Thackeray’s tactic. After saying that if his Sainiks didn’t believe he was good enough he would resign if they told him so to his face, he said that he would be happy if the next Chief Minister was a Shiv Sainik. And this is the clever part because it puts the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the rebel Sainiks in a spot.

The BJP needs the Sena in terms of numbers. It cannot rule Maharashtra on its own. If the BJP gets the support of the rebel Sainiks along with some independents and smaller parties, they will be able to form the government. But the BJP is bound to insist on getting the Chief Minister’s post. Thackeray saying that he’d be proud if the next Chief Minister was a Sainik has put even the rebel Sainiks in an uncomfortable position. It challenges them to demand the Chief Minister’s post, thereby putting them in direct conflict with their new would-be partners, the BJP, who are equally determined to keep that post for themselves. If the rebel Sainiks compromise and settle for the Deputy Chief Minister’s post, then they would lose face with their fellow partymen and would be mocked and rejected as true Sainiks.

Another interesting aspect to this black comedy was the story related by Sainik Kailash Patil. He said that he and 29 other Sainiks had been invited to dinner by Eknath Shinde. They were taken in vehicles and Patil says he became suspicious when their convoy reached Ghodbunder, the border between Mumbai and Thane districts; a long way to go for dinner. When the convoy reached Talasari district on the Gujarat border, he says he excused himself to use the washroom and then escaped and kept running in the dark until he felt safe enough to call Sainiks and tell them what was going on.

So far, Eknath Shinde has no answer to the wily web that has been quietly but very publicly spun around him by Thackeray. The support of the 46 rebel Sainiks that he claims to have is just a numbers game and not a trump card. Not, at least, for the moment. The numbers game may possibly be the deciding factor, but, for the moment, Thackeray, with his emotional approach, has struck back.

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