Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Uddhav Thackeray has offered to step down as chief minister if the rebel Shiv Sena leaders tell him that he is unfit to continue in the position, as the crisis in the Maharashtra government comes to a head.
The move comes after as many as 34 rebel Maharashtra Shiv Sena MLAs endorsed dissident Shiv Sena dissident leader Eknath Shinde as their party leader in a statement made available to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. Shinde and a cohort of MLAs have put up at a hotel in Assam’s Guwahati, where they travelled to from Gujarat’s Surat on Wednesday morning.
The 34 MLAs have claimed that they have been ill at ease with the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress government that has been in power since late 2019.
After more than 40 hours of political drama in Maharashtra, Thackeray finally broke his silence on Wednesday evening. Claiming to be pained by the behaviour of his own, the Shiv Sena chief said that he would be moving out of the chief minister’s official bungalow Varsha to his personal residence Matoshree in western Mumbai.
Thackeray, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier on Wednesday, said that he was also willing to step down from the party chief’s position if those rebelling (from the party) come forward and say so. “You don’t need to move to another state and stay in some hotel in Surat to make such moves. You come here and tell me this to my face. I have made up my mind. I am willing to step down from not just the CM’s position but also from the post of the party head, if my people want me to,” he said in a live appearance.
Thackeray also added that he has been criticised for forgetting his “Hindu roots”. “I was a Hindu yesterday; I am a Hindu today and I will continue to be a Hindu tomorrow. Let there be no doubt,” he claimed. He also claimed that he was perhaps the only chief minister to have spoken of Hindutva in the assembly.
Hours later, the Shiv Sena chief made good of his promise to move out of the CM’s official residence.
— ANI (@ANI) June 22, 2022
After Thackeray’s webcast, NCP president Sharad Pawar, his daughter and NCP MP Supriya Sule and party minister Jitendra Awhad called on the chief minister.
In response to Thackeray, Shinde said the Shiv Sena must break the “unnatural” alliance with the Congress and the NCP. “In the last two and a half years of the MVA government, only the constituent parties have benefitted while the Shiv Sainiks were overwhelmed. While the constituent parties are getting stronger, the Shiv Sainiks – Shiv Sena is getting embezzled. It is essential to get out of the unnatural alliance for the survival of the party and Shiv Sainiks. Decisions need to be taken now in the interest of Maharashtra,” he wrote in Marathi on Twitter.
Shiv Sena MP Bhavana Gawali has asked Thackeray to look into the demands made by the rebel leaders, asking him to take the right decision in the “larger interest of the people”.
Shiv Sena Lok Sabha MP Bhavana Gawali writes to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray requesting not to take any harsh actions against estranged leader Eknath Shinde & Shiv Sena MLA. He requested Thackeray to take the right decision for the larger interest of the people.
— Sudhir Suryawanshi (@ss_suryawanshi) June 22, 2022
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has meanwhile indicated that Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray could recommend to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari to dissolve the state assembly, as the crisis for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government deepened.
“The political developments in Maharashtra are headed towards dissolution of the state assembly,” Raut said.
Two MLAs from the rebel camp have, meanwhile, returned to the MVA fold, noting they had been taken against their will.
Meanwhile, travelling Sena MLAs were received at the airport by BJP MPs Pallab Lochan Das and Sushanta Borgohain.
Shinde, who initially refused to talk to reporters waiting outside the airport, later said he has ‘the support of 40 MLAs’.
#WATCH | "A total of 40 Shiv Sena MLAs are present here. We will carry Balasaheb Thackeray's Hindutva," said Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde after arriving in Guwahati, Assam pic.twitter.com/YpSrGbJvdt
— ANI (@ANI) June 22, 2022
Shiv Sena MLAs Kailash Patil and Nitin Deshmukh have meanwhile returned from the Eknath Shinde camp and pledged support to Uddhav Thackeray. Both have alleged that they were taken to Gujarat against their will.
“I was forcibly taken to Surat. I am absolutely fine. I didn’t have a heart attack. I was abducted by over 20-25 people, was locked inside a hospital room. I was injected with something forcefully and hospitalised against my will. I belong to Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena,” Deshmukh said.
Patil made it clear that he was taken to Gujarat against will.
“I was put in a vehicle and taken outside Mumbai against my will. Mid-way, when the vehicle was about to cross over to Gujarat, I sensed something is wrong. I asked them to stop at a toilet close by and then escaped from there. I ran 4-5 kilometres and then headed back to Bombay. Local truck drivers helped me get back to Mumbai,” he told reporters.
Earlier, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut claimed 14 to 15 Sena MLAs, including some ministers, are with Shinde in Gujarat’s Surat city. However, another party leader said the number could be 23.
The Shiv Sena, which heads the MVA, has 55 MLAs, followed by allies NCP (53) and the Congress (44) in the 288-member assembly, where the current simple majority mark is 144.
Thus, the BJP can form the government if Shinde and other rebels decide to resign from the assembly in support of the saffron party. In that case, the BJP with 106 MLAs (38 short of the majority mark of 144) will be positioned well to dislodge the Mahavikas Aghadi government in an assembly with reduced strength.
Meanwhile, in Assam
Speculation is rife that Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is likely to meet the MLAs during the day. However, the BJP party or his office are yet to confirm the meeting.
Tight security has been imposed, with a huge posse of police personnel posted in and around the hotel.
The MLAs were taken to Surat from Mumbai on Tuesday and the decision to shift them to Guwahati was taken on security grounds, PTI reported, quoting a BJP source.
This is perhaps for the first time that MLAs from a western Indian state is being taken to a northeastern state after rebellion against the party leadership.
The Wire has reported that a Sena loyalist, Shinde had been unhappy with the party’s direction. “He felt he was not being kept in the loop even when important policies were being formulated and party decisions were being taken,” said a party leader.
(With PTI inputs)
Note: First published at 9.09 am on June 22, 2022, this report is being updated and republished with information as it comes in.