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Shinde or Uddhav, which is the real Sena? All eyes on next chapter of Maharashtra row

CM Shinde & 38 MLAs in his camp will be part of ruling alliance, while other 16 MLAs will be in opposition. This is likely to make upcoming civic polls uphill battle for Thackeray camp.

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Mumbai: After an acerbic tug of war between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, which concluded in the three-party government’s downfall Wednesday, Maharashtra is set for another political slugfest.

This one will be an unusual Shiv Sena versus Shiv Sena tussle, with the BJP as an amused bystander and a beneficiary.

On one side, there’s a group that’s loyal to the new chief minister, Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde, who — along with 38 of the party’s 55 MLAs in his camp — insists that they are still the Shiv Sena. On the other side are the Shiv Sena members who owe their allegiance to former CM and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.

Earlier this month, Eknath Shinde led a group of Sena MLAs against the MVA government, resulting in it losing its majority in the Maharashtra assembly. This also led Shiv Sena chief Thackeray to step down as CM ahead of a floor test he knew his government would lose.

Now, CM Shinde and the 38 MLAs in his camp will be part of the ruling alliance with the BJP, while the other 16 MLAs who stayed behind will be part of the opposition, with both sides claiming they are the real Shiv Sena.

Meanwhile, the fissures in the party will have an impact on the ground, too, with some cadres likely to rally behind the MLAs of their constituencies, and those backing Thackeray likely to be distrustful of people from rebel MLAs’ home turfs. 

This, several from the Thackeray camp said, will make the upcoming elections to major municipal corporations, including Mumbai, this year, an uphill battle.

Also Read: How Devendra Fadnavis put inglorious 2019 exit behind him, made good on ‘Me punha yein’ promise

The Shiv Sena & the BJP-backed Shiv Sena

At a joint press conference with Shinde Thursday, the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis told reporters that his party — which has 106 MLAs of its own compared to the Shiv Sena rebels’ 39 — had decided to give the CM’s post to Shinde, formerly urban development minister in the MVA government. 

Fadnavis, meanwhile, was sworn in as Shinde’s deputy.

Political commentator Prakash Bal told ThePrint, “The calculation behind the BJP leaving the CM’s post for Shinde could be to isolate Uddhav Thackeray. The assumption is that if Eknath Shinde is the CM, many more Shiv Sainiks inside and outside the legislature might align themselves with him.”

“The BJP can also say how it fulfilled Bal Thackeray’s dream by making Balasaheb’s Shiv Sainik the CM, and use this to taunt the Shiv Sena,” he added.

Shinde, who has been claiming to follow Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s ideology ever since he broke away from the MVA, responded to Fadnavis’ announcement by once again trying to stake claim to the elder Thackeray’s legacy.

“As per the numbers, the BJP could have taken the CM’s post, but they (the BJP) showed generosity and made Balasaheb’s Shiv Sainik a CM,” Shinde said at the press conference.

The Shinde camp has, however, underlined that they had no intention of crossing Uddhav Thackeray or making him step down as CM.

At a press conference in Goa, where the rebel MLAs are currently camped, legislator Deepak Kesarkar said, “All the MLAs still have the same love and respect for Uddhavsaheb that we have always had. Our issue was one of principle. Our objective was not to remove Uddhav Thackeray as CM. All this was against the MVA.”

Kesarkar insisted that “there was no intention to hurt Uddhavsaheb in any way”. 

“Each of our MLAs is distressed that they had to indirectly fight our leader in our fight against the Congress and the NCP,” he added.

Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut, however, said the rebels would always be “traitors” for the main party. “All this was the BJP’s game plan, and some of our leaders have unfortunately fallen prey to it. Whether they sit there or with us, these rebels will always be traitors for us.” 

Raut claimed that this was all the BJP’s doing, keeping the upcoming Mumbai civic polls in mind: “Once the purpose is served, they will not only finish the rebel group, but also Eknath Shinde’s career.”

“The fact that most of our MLAs have gone doesn’t mean that the Shiv Sena is gone. The trunk is still there and we will work hard to stand on our own again,” he told ThePrint.

The claims over Shiv Sena

According to the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, the Election Commission of India can rule in favour of a party’s breakaway faction and allow it to take on the party symbol, or not, or neither, after taking into account “all the available facts and circumstances of the case and hearing such representatives of the sections or groups and other persons as desire to be heard”.

“The decision of the Commission shall be binding on all such rivals or groups,” it adds.

Prakash Bal, quoted earlier, said: “The party at large is still with Uddhav Thackeray. Who is technically the Shiv Sena now will be a long battle that can only be settled in court.” 

“Till then the government will continue to stay unstable. The MLAs with Shinde will be in limbo or they will have to merge with some party,” the political commentator added.

Before Thackeray’s resignation and Shinde’s swearing in as CM, the Shiv Sena had last week sought to disqualify some of the rebel MLAs. The Supreme Court stayed the disqualification proceedings till 11 July.

A Shiv Sena source from the Thackeray camp said the Shinde government would install its own Speaker, who may rule on the disqualification pleas in the rebels’ favour. “Worse still, they could move to disqualify our 16 MLAs for not following the party whip. We need to see how it all plays out.”

Sena MP Vinayak Raut said the issue of disqualifying the rebels is still before the Supreme Court and the party is keeping its faith in the judiciary. “They may have their Speaker, but that does not mean the whole judicial system has collapsed,” he added.

Impact on the party

Party leaders said the rebellion would definitely make it tough for the Shiv Sena to bounce back or even prepare for the upcoming civic polls, but there could be a helpful sympathy wave for Uddhav Thackeray.

“MLA Ravindra Phatak was sitting with us till one morning. And by evening we hear he has crossed over to the rebel side. All this is making it difficult for us to trust our own people, our own cadre,” a senior Shiv Sena functionary told ThePrint, adding: “In preparation for the polls, we will have to first verify who is with us and who is with them (Shinde camp).” 

Another Mumbai-based party leader, who did not wish to be named, said that while the entire cadre in Mumbai is firmly with Uddhav, the going will be difficult in places such as Thane, Shinde’s turf, and the Marathwada region, where prominent MLAs who enjoy considerable clout have rebelled.

“In Marathwada, one of the last cabinet decisions of the MVA government to rename Aurangabad ‘Sambhajinagar’ will pare some of the losses, but overall, the upcoming municipal elections across Maharashtra will be crucial,” the leader said.

“But everybody saw how Uddhavsaheb was treated, and his resignation speech left not just Shiv Sainiks, but the larger public too, emotional. People will remember all this,” he added.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: ‘Aloof, distant, distrustful’ — why Uddhav Thackeray couldn’t hold Sena MLAs together


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