The decision to fly out the rebel Shiv Sena and Independent MLAs from Surat to Guwahati, both in BJP-ruled states, was taken after it was learnt that at least two Sena MLAs were not on the same page as Shinde — and that Surat was “too close to Maharashtra”, which might lead to the revolt failing, sources told The Indian Express.
Surat was initially considered a “safe” place, given that it is home to the influential Gujarat BJP chief C R Paatil. And yet, it was Paatil aide and Surat Municipal Corporation standing committee chairman Paresh Patel, who managed the evacuation of MLAs to Guwahati.
A senior BJP leader from Vadodara said: “There is a lot of pressure on the MLAs, especially those who joined the rebellion because they are miffed but not yet decided about what will happen next. After one of the MLAs had an argument with the others and left the hotel, we heard that there were a few other voices questioning the decision to rebel in such a manner. Also, more leaders from Maharashtra were expected to travel to Surat to pressure groups close to them…”
On Wednesday, Balapur (Akola) MLA Nitin Deshmukh claimed he was forcefully admitted to a hospital in Surat and administered injections against his will when he wanted to return to Maharashtra. And Osmanabad MLA Kailas Paatil claimed he was “misled” by Shinde’s men into believing he was accompanying them for dinner but instead taken in a car to Gujarat, when he “managed to escape” about 40 km ahead of Thane. Both Vadodara and Surat have a sizable Marathi-speaking population.
On Tuesday, Maharashtra Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray had sent two aides Milind Narvekar and MLC Ravindra Phatak to Surat to meet the rebel leaders. They were inside the Le Meridien hotel, where the rebels were housed, for almost two hours but the talks failed.
“The decision to shift to Guwahati happened sometime in the evening after the Maharashtra government sent its emissaries,” the Vadodara BJP leader said.
According to sources, the move to Surat and onward to Guwahati was “meticulously planned”. “Guwahati was chosen because it is safer geographically and politically. First of all, the Northeast is not a region that has become a centre for such political activities. It is not well connected with Maharashtra, which makes it difficult for the MLAs to go out of the state without the knowledge of the state administration,” said a BJP source. Besides, the source said, Assam is not within easy reach of some of Maharashtra’s industrialists who would have helped Thackeray or his close aides influence their colleagues. Another state BJP leader said the shifting was necessary to “deny access to Gujarat leaders of NCP and Congress, the Shiv Sena’s allies in Maharashtra”. The leader pointed out that NCP has a base in Gujarat with leaders like Jayant Patel.
“Sharad Pawar is a powerful leader. And our party will not take any chances with him, after failing to form the government in Maharashtra once earlier. Assam is the place where NCP and Shiv Sena don’t have any standing at present… where chances of Pawar having any clout are almost nil. So Guwahati was the safest place to shift those MLAs,” the leader said.
An NCP leader from Gujarat claimed that many of the rebel MLAs “have been kidnapped”. “The wives of many of them have lodged police complaints. Some have already escaped and made allegations. Surat is very close to Maharashtra and the MVA leaders would have tried to reach out to them.” the leader said.
The Sena has no presence in Gujarat electorally. The closest it came was when it won the bypoll last November to the Lok Sabha seat of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, a Union Territory, which fell vacant after incumbent MP Mohan Delkar died by suicide. The seat was won by Delkar’s wife Kalaben on a Sena ticket. “We have a very close relationship with Maharash-tra not just due to proximity but by politics, trade, business and even culture. The fact that this rebellion could lead to a possible split of Shiv Sena and change the political canvas of Maharashtra can even cause a law and order problem in either of the states…Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, has a sizable Gujarati population. So it is better if the internal matter of the Sena is dealt with by them in a neutral place,” the BJP leader said.