A political rift in India’s richest state Maharashtra has put the fate of its government in jeopardy. Eknath Shinde, a senior minister in the state government, says he has the support of 40 of the 56 lawmakers from the ruling Shiv Sena party. His rebellion has brought the state’s Sena-led coalition government to the brink of collapse. Long-term allies in the state, Shiv Sena, and the BJP split after the 2019 state elections following differences over power-sharing.
The BJP had won the largest number of 106 seats in the 288-member assembly, but the Sena was able to form a coalition government with the regional Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), India’s main opposition Congress party, and several other smaller groups and independents. Reports say that Mr. Shinde is interested in reviving the alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), bringing it back to power in the state.
As the rift has deepened this week, the state has witnessed high drama with the factions led by Mr. Shinde and Mr. Thackeray sequestering their loyal lawmakers in hotels to stop the other side from poaching them. To avoid disqualification under India’s anti-defection law, Mr. Shinde needs the support of 37 lawmakers in the state. He has claimed the support of 40 Sena lawmakers and six independents, but the number is yet to be independently verified. Along with several of his supporters, Mr. Shinde is lodged at a hotel in the northeastern state of Assam, where they were received by two leaders of the BJP on their arrival on Tuesday.
The crisis began after Mr. Shinde, a veteran Shiv Sena leader, became “unreachable” after Monday’s legislative council elections in the state. The Shiv Sena and its allies were predicted to win six of the 10 seats, but they got only five. The BJP, which was expected to win only four, won the other five, amid reports of cross-voting by Sena rebels. Media reports then said that Mr. Shinde, accompanied by 11 other Sena lawmakers, had left for Surat city in the western state of Gujarat. Mr. Thackeray responded by removing Mr. Shinde as party whip. Mr. Shinde then dropped the Shiv Sena from his Twitter profile and was seen meeting BJP leaders who later visited him at his hotel in Gujarat.
Mr. Shinde and his supporters flew to Guwahati city in Assam on Tuesday night, shortly after a phone conversation with Mr. Thackeray. Mr. Shinde has claimed he is not breaking away from the Shiv Sena and that the lawmakers will carry forward the Hindu nationalist legacy of the party’s founder Balasaheb Thackery – the chief minister’s late father.
Mr. Thackeray called a meeting of the state cabinet on Wednesday which was attended by NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Kamal Nath. Senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut has blamed the BJP for the revolt within his party, accusing it of trying to topple the coalition government.
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday said the Shiv Sena will remain on the path of Hindutva amidst attacks from his party colleagues on the issue, even as Rahul Gandhi, a key leader of his alliance partner Congress, has been slamming the ideology lately, saying it only seeks power.
“Some are raising questions about our Hindutva. Shiv Sena and Hindutva are two sides of the same coin. Some allege that this is no longer Balasaheb Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. We are carrying the same thoughts of Balasaheb. Shiv Sena did a lot for Hindutva,” the CM said to counter the sentiments expressed by Shinde and others with him.
Eknath Shinde and 33 other MLAs in their letter on Wednesday highlighted such contradictions in the MVA alliance. “There is enormous discontent amongst the cadres of our party, Shiv Sena, for forming the government with NCP and Congress, who are ideologically opposed to our party. There has been a compromise on the principles of our party which has a fierce ideological base…for the sake of achieving power. The ideology of our party’s leader Balasaheb Thackeray was not to compromise on the principle of Hindutva, which was defeated on the first day itself by aligning with the opposing ideologies,” Shinde and others said in their letter.
Amid the escalating political crisis in Maharashtra triggered by Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde’s rebellion, Uddhav, in an address to the state, had stated: “I will submit my resignation letter if they come and ask for it. If any MLA wants me to not continue as the CM, I am ready to take all my belongings from Versha Bungalow (official residence of the CM) to Matoshri”. Facing rebellion within his party, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has left the chief minister’s residence and moved back to Matoshree.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut has said that party chief Uddhav Thackeray will not resign as the chief minister of Maharashtra. “If need be, we will prove the majority on the floor of the houses,” Sanjay Raut said on the rebellion within the party. “We had meetings with Nana Patole and Sharad Pawar as well. Uddhav Thackeray remains as the leader of Maha Vikas Aghadi,” Sanjay Raut said.