The ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi, which came to power in Maharashtra in November 2019, plunged into crisis Tuesday after Shiv Sena leader and state Urban Development and Public Works Minister Eknath Shinde revolted against his party Monday night and showed up in a Surat hotel with over 30 MLAs including three ministers.
Caught napping, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was battling to save his government, sending aides to Surat to open lines of communication with the rebels. Only 18 of his party’s 55 MLAs were present at a meeting called at Varsha, the CM’s official residence, in the afternoon. The Sena removed Shinde as the party’s leader in the state Assembly, replacing him with Shivadi MLA Ajay Choudhari.
Shinde’s revolt, hours after the Legislative Council elections in which the MVA suffered a setback following cross-voting by MLAs, has put a question mark on the future of the coalition.
In the House of 288 which is currently at 287 owing to the death of Sena MLA Ramesh Latke last month, the MVA needs at least 144 MLAs. Before the revolt, its strength in the House was 152 — Sena 55, NCP 53, Congress 44. The BJP strength is 106 while Others account for the remaining 29.
Given that 37 Sena MLAs did not attend the meeting that Uddhav had called, the coalition appeared to be in a precarious position. Under the anti-defection law, a two-thirds majority will be required to stake claim as a separate group. If Shinde retains 37 of the Sena’s 55 MLAs, the way ahead for him will be clear.
In the Shinde camp are three ministers — Shambhuraj Desai (MoS Home); Abdul Sattar (MoS Revenue); and, Sandipan Bhumare (MoS EGS and Horticulture).
Sena MP Sanjay Raut blamed the BJP for the revolt in his party. “The BJP is carrying out Operation Lotus from Gujarat. The Sena members have been forcibly kept in a hotel. They were also attacked. It tantamounts to kidnapping. Many of them who wanted to return were held back by police. Some conveyed that their life was in danger,” he claimed.
The BJP, on the other hand, was keeping its cards close to its chest, adopting a “wait and watch” mantra. Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said, “In politics, nothing can be ruled out. But we are not dislodging the government. The Sena is facing a revolt from its own members.” The split in the Sena, he said, reflects the lack of trust that members have in the party’s leadership.
BJP sources said two senior party leaders, Union Minister Bhupender Yadav and party national general secretary C T Ravi, have been assigned the task of holding talks with Shinde and the rebel MLAs. BJP managers said, “The party would like to see how Thackeray handles the in-house crisis. We are not in a hurry to make any decision.”
As the Sena swung into damage control, Shinde sent a clear message via a Twitter post: “We are Balasaheb’s loyal Sainiks. Balasaheb taught us Hindutva. Our commitment to Balasaheb’s Hindutva and teachings of Anand Dighe remains uncompromised. We have never cheated for power.”
The Sena removed Shinde as its leader in the House and sent emissaries Milind Narvekar and Ravindra Phatak to Surat for talks with the rebels.
The revolt in the Sena had coalition partners NCP and Congress clearly worried. Although NCP chief Sharad Pawar said, “It is an internal matter of Shiv Sena,” his party leader Chhagan Bhujbal said, “A storm has hit Maharashtra. Hopefully, it will recede.” Congress state president Nana Patole said, “The BJP has always tried to destabilise the government. But we are strong.”
In Surat, Shinde and the Sena rebels checked into a hotel. By 2 pm, Sanjay Kute, BJP MLA from Jalgaon in Maharashtra, was seen arriving at the hotel.
In the House of 288 which is currently at 287 owing to the death of one of the members, the MVA needs at least 144 MLAs. Before the revolt, its strength in the House was 152. Given that 37 Sena MLAs did not attend the meeting that Uddhav called, the coalition is in a precarious position.
Uddhav’s emissaries Narvekar and Phatak were made to wait outside the hotel for nearly 20 minutes before being allowed entry. They were in the hotel for nearly two hours, sources said. Of the 170 rooms in the hotel, 30 rooms on the second floor had been taken by the MLAs, sources said.
Sena MLA Nitin Deshmukh, who was in the hotel as part of the rebel group, took ill and had to be admitted to the New Civil Hospital in Surat. His wife Pranjali reported her husband as “missing” at the Civil Lines police station in Akola, Maharashtra.
Sena members and Deshmukh’s friends Dilip Bavche and Mahadev Gavde came from Akola in the evening but were told Deshmukh was no longer in the hospital. Gavde told The Indian Express, “Police intentionally kept us waiting on the first floor. They told us that Deshmukh is in a meeting with Shinde and the doctors. After an hour and half, police told us that Deshmukh had left for the hotel.”
Layers of security have been placed outside the hotel on the Surat-Dumas road. Police placed barricades 200 metres from the hotel and only guests who had checked in before the MLAs showed up were allowed inside after screening. Surat police are also checking vehicles going towards Dumas, a popular beachside destination for city residents..