With the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena arguing that the Eknath Shinde faction cannot claim to be a separate group even if it has two-thirds majority and must merge with another party, the latter is said to be exploring that option. And the first party on its list is said to be the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), an earlier offshoot of the Sena, led by Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray.
Shinde is learnt to have spoken to Raj Thackeray over the phone, though ostensibly to enquire about his health following a hip-replacement surgery. Raj was discharged two days ago.
The Shinde faction claims to have 50 MLAs, 40-plus of them from the Sena and the rest either Independents or from smaller parties. With the total strength of the Sena being 55 MLAs, Shinde already has more than the two-third mark of 37.
The Uddhav-led Sena, however, argued on Sunday that they can’t be recognised as a separate group even if they have the two-thirds to escape the anti-defection law, and if they didn’t merge with another party, would stand disqualified.
Highly placed sources in the Shinde camp said that “if the situation so demands”, they had three options: the MNS, Prahar Janashakti (whose MLAs have already extended it support) and the BJP.
Officially, rebel leader Deepak Kesarkar said, “We are not going to merge with any party. We are very much a part of the Sena. Since a majority of the members are on our side, we should be considered the real Shiv Sena.”
Although the BJP should be a natural partner — given the Sena’s long association with it and given that the rebel leaders have questioned Uddhav’s decision to dump it for the Congress and NCP — a section with Shinde is not keen on merging with the dominant, all-consuming national party.
A senior rebel leader said, “We know if we merge our group in the BJP, it would give us a national identity, and the process will be easy. But we don’t want to lose our individual identity as a regional party.”
The Prahar Janashakti, which is led by Bacchu Kadu, has two MLAs. The disadvantage here, as per the more aggressive Sena leaders, is that this merger would be seen as nothing but political compulsion.
The basic character of the Prahar Janashakti is very different from the typical Sena’s. It basically fights for farmers and on agricultural issues, apart from raising bread-and-butter matters.
That leaves the MNS, which has just one MLA and is desperate for a lifeline. Sena leaders said Raj Thackeray and Shinde have always shared very cordial relations. Plus, the MNS has been attacking the Uddhav-led Sena for “compromising on Hindutva” – the very charge that the rebel group has levelled against it. Thirdly, going with Raj Thackeray would help Shinde retain a share of the Thackeray political legacy.
However, the Shinde group is in no hurry, sources said. A rebel minister said: “Once we overcome legal and legislative hurdles, we will emerge stronger politically. Till then we will wait and watch.”