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Uddhav Vs Shah-Modi Via Shinde

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
June 27, 2022 10:54 IST
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The inexperienced Uddhav is forced to match up against 24x7 political pros Amit Shah and Narendra Modi who have the added advantage of wielding power at the Centre, asserts Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Eknath Shinde, Maharashtra's urban development minister, second from left, at the Shiv Sena's 56th foundation day at a hotel in Powai, north east Mumbai, June 19, 2022, the day before his revolt against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, fourth from right.
 
Photograph: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

It is not clear how the current turmoil in Maharashtra politics will eventually pan out.

The rebel Shiv Sena Minister Eknath Shinde and his group of MLAs were refusing to return to the party fold unless Uddhav Thackeray dumped the alliance with the Congress and the NCP.

Thackeray himself moved out of the chief minister's bungalow and made an emotional appeal to the rebels to return to the party.

The appeal was promptly rejected. The rebels will not settle for anything short of the termination of the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance.

And, equally importantly, the renewal of the BJP-Sena alliance as before.

Shinde's demand for an alliance with the BJP on the Hindutva platform has the support of the majority of Sena MLAs. Ordinary Sainiks too seem to favour the BJP as an alliance partner rather than the NCP or the Congress.

If it were not so, Shinde would not have drawn support from such a large number of MLAs.

The fact that the revolt on such a large scale was brewing for weeks, but the chief minister was caught completely by surprise is in itself a sad commentary on his lack of grip on the government.

His laid-back style, reliance on a few advisers, long absences due to medical problems, compounded further his innate resistance to playing a 24x7 politician.

Photography was his passion, but he found himself plunged into politics for sake of salvaging his father Balasaheb Thackeray's political legacy.

The grievance that Uddhav was unavailable for meeting with even senior Sena MLAs was pointedly highlighted by one rebel MLA.

In a letter to Uddhav, he complained that a couple of self-styled leaders rudely shooed them away whenever they sought time to meet him.

Sena MLAs also protested that they were denied funds for constituency-development whereas NCP and Congress MLAs faced no such problems, getting prompt redressal from their own ministers or even from Sena ministers.

In the two-and-a-half years, the rebels said, only Shinde was accessible, providing funds for constituency works or, even otherwise, resolving their grievances.

As urban development minister, Shinde complained of being hamstrung by interference from Aaditya Thackeray, a fellow minster and the CM's elder son, and outsiders who had Uddhav's ear.

Feeling suffocated in the Sena-led government, Shinde has now mounted a frontal challenge, laying claim to Balasaheb Thackeray's legacy.

He argued that the Sena founder had fiercely championed the cause of Hindutva, and bitterly opposed the NCP and the Congress, the very parties Uddhav had allied with for becoming chief minister.

It is interesting that the BJP has adopted a wait-and-watch approach to the rebellion, though former chief minister Devendra Fadanavis is ensuring all logistical support to the rebels.

Otherwise, the airtight security arrangements in Surat and in Guwahati, both places where where the BJP is in power, could not have been so smooth.

IMAGE: Eknath Shinde interacts with rebel Shiv Sena MLAs at a hotel in Guwahati, June 23, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

Another interested party is the NCP. Its leader Sharad Pawar has said the rebellion was an internal matter of the Sena, but nonetheless the old war horse was strategising for Uddhav, trying to salvage whatever can be from a very difficult situation.

The situation being fluid, the role of the deputy speaker of the state assembly -- who is officiating as the speaker since the new speaker is yet to be elected-- will be crucial.

He has rejected the plea of the Shinde group on the basis of claimed support from more than three-fourths of the Sena MLAs to recognise it as the official Sena group.

Unsurprisingly, the acting speaker will do the bidding of the three-party alliance, himself being an NCP MLA.

The denial of recognition to the Shinde group will cause the latter to seek redressal from the courts.

Simultaneously, the rebel group can write to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari pressing for an early floor test, claiming the support of more that 37 Sena MLAs besides a number of Independents.

Normally it is the government's prerogative to summon the assembly, but when it is facing a revolt from within the ruling group the governor can use his discretion and order a floor test.

In such fraught situations, even the courts could ordere a floor test on being approached by the aggrieved group.

Though the survival of the Uddhav government seems difficult, in the highly unlikely event of it surviving the floor test, it will not be all smooth sailing.

The fact is the three-party alliance never really settled down since its formation two-and-a-half-years ago.

From the outside, Fadnavis, who felt cheated of chief ministership by the Shiv Sena, kept all manner of pressure with the generous help of the Centre and its investigating agencies.

Internally, the three strange bedfellows never trusted one another, each pulling the other in a different direction.

Various scandals further tainted the ruling alliance.

Even at this stage, two senior NCP leaders, both ministers originally in the Thackeray government, are in jail on corruption-related charges.

All said and done, Shinde's revolt has forced the issue of the unnatural Sena alliance with the NCP and Congress to a head.

Since Uddhav will lose face should he tie up with the BJP at this stage, a split in the Sena appears inevitable.

In that case, the breakaway Sena group led by Shinde can either join the BJP, or claiming to be the official wing of the Sena, enter into alliance with the BJP.

IMAGE: Shiv Sena supporters shout encouragement to Uddhav Thackeray outside Matoshree after he returned to his ancestral home in north west Mumbai on Wednesday, June 23, 2022, night, leaving Varsha, the chief minister's bungalow, in south Mumbai.

Whichever way Shinde goes, he will have to rely on the BJP to contest the next election.

A fresh election seems unavoidable now.

The Uddhav-led Sena will ally with the NCP and Congress while the BJP and Shinde will fight the election together.

Immediately, the first test of the changed political equations will impact the outcome on the election to the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, the richest civic body in the country.

An adverse outcome for the MVA in the BMC poll could prove a fatal blow for the alliance and demoralise further the Uddhav loyalists who may cross over to his side.

These are tough times ahead for the mild-mannered Uddhav obliged to nurture his father's legacy, though hardscrabble politics doesn't seem to be his cup of tea.

And here the inexperienced Uddhav is virtually forced to match up against 24x7 political pros like Amit Shah and Narendra Modi who have the added advantage of wielding power at the Centre.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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