Eknath Shinde, who has caused the Shiv Sena to fold in on itself, is headed to Mumbai -finally. His travel plans suggest that he’s ready to fuel the next big move against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray – a no-confidence vote which would force Mr Thackeray to prove that his government has not been dwarfed to a minority.
Perhaps in recognition of this, Mr Thackeray sent a letter today to the 40 MLAs from his own party who have deserted him – metaphorically and literally, by forming a bio-bubble at the five-star Radisson Blu hotel in Guwahati, where they have elected Mr Shinde as their leader and authorised him to decide their future.
“Come back to Mumbai, let’s talk, we’ll find a way (out),” read Mr Thackeray’s emotional appeal to Camp Shinde.
Mr Thackeray and his team – about 15 of the party’s 55 MLAs – have repeatedly said that if he is brought face-to-face with those who have rejected him as their chief, the chasm can be bridged. It is to guard against that Mr Shinde has quarantined his entourage in the North East since last Wednesday.
At the Guwahati hotel, the BJP has been given visiting rights, a telltale sign of its intricate involvement in the crisis that seeks to collapse Mr Thackeray’s government. Mr Shinde and his posse have said that the Sena has been betrayed by its now three-year-old alliance with the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s party in Maharashtra; its authentic self, they say, belongs with the BJP, its partner of 30 years till 2019.
It was then that Mr Thackeray, smarting from what he saw as an undermining of the Sena by the BJP, formed a new combo, one that had the numbers to form the government and that was conceived of and supervised by Mr Pawar.
But since then, Camp Shinde alleges, the Sena has diluted its focus on Hindutva, and has often sold itself short in order to help its allies, especially in elections where Sena MLAs were urged to support candidates from partner parties.
It was after one of those elections last week that Mr Shinde headed out of Mumbai on a bus with a band of about 20 MLAs. They were escorted by the Gujarat police (another measure of the BJP’s complicity) to a Surat hotel. After Mr Thackeray’s aides managed to meet a few of the rebels, the group was loaded onto a plane for its current digs in Guwahati.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court said that as yet, the rebel MLAs cannot be disqualified for anti-party actions, which was what Mr Thackeray’s team had sought. Instead, Camp Shinde has till July 12 to explain its stand. Separately, Mr Shinde has filed his own petition for party posts to be appointed by him and not by Mr Thackeray, who, he says, now holds sway over a tiny corner of the Sena.
Mr Shinde has also claimed that he – or his team, at any rate – is “the true promoter of the ideology” of Bal Thackeray, who was the Chief Minister’s father and founder of the Shiv Sena.
Mr Shinde’s next step will likely involve a meeting with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to request a vote in the assembly to determine Mr Thackeray’s strength. Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, who lost office as Chief Minister to Mr Thackeray, is in Delhi, consulting with party bosses on how to shape the things to come.