Eschewing the conciliatory offers made earlier to the rebel Shiv Sena MLA faction led by Minister Eknath Shinde, the Sena on Friday took a hardline against their ‘perfidy’, with MP Sanjay Raut stating that the party’s doors were closed for the rebels. He stressed that the tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government stood firm and would complete its remaining tenure of two-and-a-half years.
He said the MVA (of the Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress) would “not accept defeat” following Mr. Shinde’s rebellion.
“They [rebel Sena MLAs] have taken a very wrong step…we [the MVA] will win on the floor of the House [Maharashtra Assembly]. Should this battle be fought on the streets, then we will win that too. Those who want to challenge us, can return to Mumbai… We had given them a chance to turn back, but now I think that time has elapsed,” said Mr. Raut.
With the MVA facing an existential crisis after Mr. Shinde, with his revolt, taking the bulk of the 55 Sena legislators on his side, putting the ruling government in a minority, Mr. Raut held an emergency meeting with NCP chief Sharad Pawar at Mumbai’s Yashwantrao Chavan Centre during which Sena MP Anil Desai and Home Minister and NCP leader Dilip Walse-Patil were present.
A meeting with NCP leaders was also held at Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s official residence ‘Matoshree’,
Expressing confidence that the MVA would weather the present storm, Mr. Raut asserted that the coalition would fight and win the 2024 election.
“The Home Minister [Mr. Walse-Patil] is an experienced leader of the NCP… He has been a Speaker of the Assembly. He is familiar with legal problems. Mr. Desai and Mr. Walse-Patil have discussed the upcoming legal battles. We are fully prepared. Now, we are challenging you [the rebel MLAs]…return from Guwahati to face us,” said the Sena MP.
Mr. Raut was alluding to the likely prospect of legal wrangling when Mr. Shinde and the rebel group, still holed up in a posh Guwahati hotel, claimed the Sena’s ‘bow and arrow’ party symbol. The remnants of the Sena left with Mr. Thackeray is naturally expected to fiercely contest Mr. Shinde’s claim on the party symbol.
On Thursday, the Sena MP, in a bid to cajole the rebel camp to return to Mumbai, had gone so far as to say that if Mr. Shinde’s camp wished the Sena to exit the MVA, then their demand would certainly be considered provided they returned to Mumbai within the next 24 hours.
Mr. Raut’s statements miffed his partners — the NCP and the Congress — while exacerbating an already fraught situation for the three parties.
Ajit Pawar’s stand
With the NCP stiffening up the Sena by constantly pledging its support to Mr. Thackeray, Deputy Chief Minister and senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar on Friday reiterated that his party’s role would be to back the Chief Minister during the current crisis and keep the MVA government afloat.
“The [rebel Sena] MLAs who have gone to Guwahati are claiming they are still with the party. So, this means that the three MVA parties together still retain a majority,” he said.
Lauding Mr. Thackeray’s leadership of the MVA, Mr. Pawar said: “Mr. Thackeray has taken everyone along with him in the last two-and-a-half-years. He routinely featured in lists of best Chief Ministers in the country. These lists were not prepared by us. So, they indicate that the MVA government is doing good work,” he said.
Mr. Pawar said Mr. Thackeray adroitly faced all challenges, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, while giving satisfactory answers to all problems faced by the MVA in this period.
“The NCP and the Congress supported him fully in his work. I don’t think he has neglected his own MLAs in the process of ‘managing’ the NCP and the Congress,” said the Deputy Chief Minister.