Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde’s recent rebellion is reminiscent of a similar revolt in Maharashtra in 1978, then the first of its kind in the state’s political history. The rebel group then was led by none other than Sharad Pawar, who had succeeded in toppling the Vasantdada Patil government – formed after two splinter groups of Congress had joined hands – and becoming the youngest chief minister at the age of 38.
Then Maval MLA Krishnarao Bhegde, now 87, was part of the rebel group. Recalling the 1978 rebellion, Bhegde said it was the likes of Pawar, Govindrao Adik and Prataprao Bhosale who were in the forefront of the rebellion then. “Today, the split in the Shiv Sena seems to be on the Hindutva issue. Also, the rebel Shiv Sainiks are raising the issue of humiliating treatment by NCP…,” Bhegde said.
In 1978, Bhegde said, the principal reason why the rebels decided to part ways with the government was the “humiliating” treatment meted out to them. “Deputy chief minister Nashikrao Tirpude, who belonged to Congress (I), openly criticised chief minister Patil, Pawar and his mentor Yeshwantrao Chavan. Tirpude was saying things that didn’t go down well with the likes of Pawar and his close aides. Pawar was a minister in the Vasantdada Patil group,” said Bhegde.
Bhegde said discontent against the government was brewing for three-four months. “The discussion regarding forming another group and joining hands with opposition parties like the Janata Party, Peasants and Workers Party, CPM went for nearly three to four months,” Bhegde recalled. “Then suddenly, when the monsoon session of the assembly was underway, Pawar on July 18, 1978, went to the governor and submitted a letter regarding his 38 MLAs forming a new group. He also submitted a letter regarding support of other parties and another letter regarding his election as the legislature party leader. The governor then invited Pawar to take over as the chief minister. Pawar took the oath of office even as the assembly session was underway,” said Bhegde.
During that period, Bhegde said, Pawar did not approach him but his close aides convinced him about the need to form a separate group and have “our own” government. “I don’t remember Pawar meeting me or other MLAs. We were addressed generally and not one-to-one. Pawar’s close associates kept in touch with us,” he said.
After the Emergency was lifted in 1977, Congress had split into two parties, Bhegde said. “One party was headed by Indira Gandhi, called Congress (I), and another was headed by D Devraj Urs, which was known as Congress (Urs). Both contested elections separately. Pawar was part of Congress (Urs). However, after the 1978 assembly elections, both decided to join hands to keep Janata Party away from power,” he said.
Bhegde said the Pawar-led (Progressive Democratic Front or PuLod) coalition government did not last long. “It was dismissed by Indira Gandhi in 1980 after she returned to power. As per my information, she had asked Pawar to join the Congress. He refused and next day, his government was dismissed,” he said.
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