The Shiv Sena, founded and led by the Thackeray family, has morphed into the Shinde Sena.
Uddhav Thackeray, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Shiv Sena chief, continues to bleed MLAs and political capital. The “Thackeray Sena” is now down to single digits.
Eknath Shinde, leading a coup against Uddhav Thackeray, has the numbers stacked up in his favour, with huge help from the BJP.
Devendra Fadnavis, former Chief Minister, landed in Delhi late on Thursday night for a final round of consultations with Amit Shah, the BJP’s chief strategist, before any move to stake claim to power.
Uddhav Thackeray, isolated by his own Sena, is in his family home Matoshree with just son Aaditya Thackeray and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut for company. He had to cancel several meetings with Sena MLAs to save himself the blushes. In several batches, the MLAs showed up for the other party – at a five-star hotel in Guwahati, ground zero of the revolt.
Wild conspiracy theories did the rounds; some leaders claimed Uddhav Thackeray was acting in consort with the rebels as he wanted to dump his own government and rejoin the “Yuti” with the BJP. Others blamed Sharad Pawar and said he always helped the BJP, pointing at his “frenemy” status with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
They claimed Sharad Pawar and Modi were jointly acting to destroy the Sena and the Congress. Rumours became “facts” as they reached Matoshree, Uddhav Thackeray’s ivory tower.
Yesterday, on a day of complete disarray for Team Thackeray, as they fumbled and sent out conflicting political signals, it took Sharad Pawar, the architect of the unlikely MVA alliance, to keep the alliance on-message.
Earlier Sanjay Raut, in a desperate bid to stanch the MLA-bleed, said if the rebels returned to the Thackeray-led Sena, they would exit the alliance – so far the main public demand of Eknath Shinde. Left unsaid was the second part of Eknath Shinde’s equation – team up again with the BJP, its spurned saffron twin, as junior partner.
Sanjay Raut’s comments angered Sena’s alliance partners Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP, who had publicly stood with the beleaguered Uddhav Thackeray. Ajit Pawar attempted damage control but did not seem convincing.
An angry Sharad Pawar finally stepped in. First, he pointed to a video of Eknath Shinde addressing rebels, in which he finally accepts he had help from a “big national political party” and assured that there is nothing to fear. This first public admission of the BJP’s role was highlighted by Sharad Pawar who, unlike his usual unflappable self, was visibly angry. Sharad Pawar also said numbers must be proved on the floor of the assembly and that he was sure the MVA government would survive a floor test.
“For two-and-a-half years they were with us and now they are thinking of Hindutva,” Sharad Pawar bit out, also pointing at the misuse of the central investigating agencies by the BJP.
Two leaders from Sharad Pawar’s party, Anil Deshmukh and minister Nawab Malik, are in jail facing corruption allegations from the Enforcement Directorate and Anil Parab, a close Thackeray aide, is being interrogated for hours every day by the agency.
Sharad Pawar’s words on a floor test are significant as the Deputy Speaker in the assembly, Narhari Zirwal, is from his party. He will assume the role of Speaker. Zirwal announced he had approved Eknath Shinde’s replacement by Ajay Chowdhary as Sena’s group leader in the House. Any floor test will be conducted by him, and Eknath Shinde will have to approach him if he decides to go to the House claiming to be the real Sena.
Sharad Pawar also had some private advice for Uddhav Thackeray. He told him to stop being thin-skinned in the Modi-Shah era of politics and let his emotions drive him. An emotional Uddhav Thackeray told him he would like to quit, but Sharad Pawar firmly advised against it.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.