New Delhi: As support for rebel Shiv Sena MLA and Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde appears to grow among fellow legislators, the BJP is said to have a deal ready for him if it succeeds in forming the state government.
According to sources in the BJP, Shinde — like the NCP’s Ajit Pawar during the failed 2019 “coup” — has been offered the deputy chief minister’s chair and nine portfolios for his fellow rebels.
Shinde, the sources said, has also sought a Union berth for his MP son Srikant Shinde, but “this will be looked into later”.
While the BJP believes it’s just one step away from forming the government in Maharashtra, it is playing it safe for now — waiting for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to collapse on its own.
The wait-and-watch approach, it is learnt, is also aimed at giving the Shinde camp time to get the requisite number of Sena MLAs on his side to beat the anti-defection law — instead of going the Madhya Pradesh & Karnataka way.
In the latter two states, the rebel MLAs resigned from the assembly in 2019 and 2020 and the BJP then proved its majority in the reduced strength of the House. Bypolls were subsequently held for the seats of the MLAs.
Under the anti-defection law, any MLA defecting to another party after winning election on a certain party ticket, stands to lose their legislative assembly membership. However, if two-thirds of the MLAs leave a party, the group is treated as a breakaway faction and doesn’t lose their assembly membership.
More than 30 Shiv Sena MLAs are believed to be camping in BJP-led Assam with Shinde, and so are a few Independents, leaving Maharashtra’s Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government on shaky footing.
The MVA is a coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and one of the rival faction’s main demands is breaking the Sena’s alliance with the latter two parties.
The MVA has a total of 152 MLAs in the 288-member House. The Shiv Sena has 54 MLAs, two-thirds of which would be 37. While Shinde claims to have the support of over 44 MLAs, this includes Independents, said sources in the BJP.
“We have a majority including the Independents and the rebel Sena MLAs. We don’t want to go on the strength of Independents, but with a clear support of 37 rebel Sena MLAs. You can’t take such a big step on the strength of independents,” said a BJP leader.
BJP sources said Shinde needs the support of one or two more Shiv Sena MLAs to reach the two-thirds mark.
Earlier this week, the BJP which has 106 MLAs, received 134 votes for its five candidates in the Vidhan Parishad elections, by securing votes from independent members and smaller parties, as well as some alleged votes from the MVA camp.
BJP MP Manoj Kotak said the party is “not in desperation to form the government”.
“When the time comes, we will open our cards,” he added. “The situation is still fluid as Uddhav Thackeray has not resigned yet. The MVA is cracking from his sin.”
Maharashtra BJP general secretary Sujeet Thakur said the “party is moving with a foolproof plan”.
“The time has not come to approach the governor (to stake claim to the government) yet,” he added.
‘Talks on govt formation’
Top BJP leaders confirmed to ThePrint that the party was providing all logistical support to the rebel Sena MLAs and has started talks on government formation in Maharashtra.
Former chief minister and leader of opposition in the Maharashtra assembly, Devendra Fadnavis, is likely to be the CM if the plan comes through.
“Fadnavis, and chief of the BJP’s Maharashtra unit, Chandrakant Patil, are in constant touch with the rebels leaders to finalise strategy. We are expecting Uddhav (Thackeray, Maharashtra CM) to resign on his own,” said the senior BJP leader quoted above.
“Otherwise, in a day or two we will make our next move. We don’t want it to look like the BJP pulled down the MVA government. It should look like the government collapsed because of infighting in the Shiv Sena.”
Talking about the deal offered to Shinde, a second BJP leader said he had been promised the post of deputy chief minister and about nine portfolios (for the others).
“He also wants (Union government) berth for his son, Srikant Shinde. But it will be looked into later. Besides, they will get all power and facilities through the double-engine government,” said the leader, a former Maharashtra minister.
Not same formula as Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka
One thing BJP leaders say the party is certain about is not going the MP and Karnataka way to establish its government in Maharashtra, citing the latter’s “unpredictable” politics as the reason why.
In 2020, then Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia and 22 Congress MLAs quit the party and resigned from the Madhya Pradesh assembly.
The then CM Kamal Nath then lost his majority and resigned. The BJP proved its majority in the reduced strength of the House, and formed government under Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The former Congress MLAs then joined the BJP and many of them managed to get themselves re-elected on BJP tickets.
It was the same formula in Karnataka, following a rebellion by 17 Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs, who resigned from the House. This set the stage for B.S. Yediyurappa’s return as CM, and 12 of the MLAs subsequently got re-elected on BJP tickets.
“In Maharashtra, it is very unpredictable to ensure the win of two-three dozen MLAs if they resign. Therefore, we want Shinde’s group to be a breakaway party. It will be decided later whether they will join the BJP,” the leader added.
The leader also noted that the assembly “is at the halfway mark in terms of its tenure and many MLAs are hesitant to go to polls at this point”.
BJP sources said the party is certain about the MVA’s collapse, adding that the CM’s speech was proof that the government neither had numbers nor a strategy to save itself.
In a Facebook Live Wednesday, CM Uddhav Thackeray said, “I am ready to resign right now if you want me to and if you don’t believe me then after this FB live is done, I am shifting from Varsha to Matoshree from today.”
However, he said the MLAs who want him to resign should tell him so directly.
The speech was seen as an attempt by Uddhav to galvanise Shiv Sainiks to rally forces against the rebels and project himself as a victim of the BJP’s power politics.
Speaking of the speech, a BJP leader said “emotion has no meaning in politics”.
“His legislative party is on the verge of a split, he was addressing as king who has lost battle,” the source added.
The second senior BJP leader quoted above said the party was “one step away from forming the government”.
“We needed a strong leader to break the Shiv Sena, like Scindia in Madhya Pradesh. We found Shinde, we worked on his resentment and ambition for several months. Now we are only one step away, arranging two-three MLAs is not a big deal,” the leader added.
If Shinde does not get the required numbers, the leader said, the “BJP can demand President’s Rule for the time being, in case MVA is reduced to a minority in a floor test”.
Meanwhile, Fadnavis, who according to BJP sources is heading negotiations with Shinde’s faction, is busy meeting close aides like Narayan Rane and Raosaheb Danve to finalise the process.
A senior member of the Fadnavis camp said it was “only a matter of time” before the BJP staked its claim to form a government in Maharashtra.
“The plan is to move with surgical precision. Our strategy is to teach Uddhav (Thackeray) a lesson for not obeying the mandate of the last assembly election (and forming a coalition government),” the Fadnavis aide said.
Political analysts say the split in the Shiv Sena is not only because of its internal issues, but “the pressure of the Enforcement Directorate on many Sena MLAs”.
“Many who have aligned with Shinde are those against whom the ED has started a probe and whose properties have been attached by the ED, such as Yamini Jadhav and Pratap Sarnaik,” said Sanjay Patil, who has studied the Shiv Sena.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)