'It is a well-thought-out decision. It is difficult for him now to step back.'
After more than two years in power, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government is facing its first serious setback.
One of its leading lights, Urban Development Minister and senior Shiv Sena MLA Eknath Shinde appears to have revolted against Sena President and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and walked out of the party with 11 MLAs.
Shinde has been a core member of the Shiv Sena and his mutiny comes as a shock to old-timers in the party.
Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com spoke to political commentator Abhay Deshpande to understand what went wrong between Eknath Shinde and Uddhav's Shiv Sena.
What caused Eknath Shinde to revolt?
In the previous (Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena) government he was leading the Shiv Sena. But after Uddhav Thackeray became chief minister, he was sidelined in the party.
There was unrest in him, which has been triggered now.
Moreover, he had the urban development department in his charge which was being monitored by Uddhav Thackeray all the time. Therefore, he felt marginalised, which created a rift and led to this move.
Has Aaditya Thackeray's induction as minister and the assigning of important tasks to him have anything to do with Shinde's revolt?
Not particularly Aaditya Thackeray.
Shinde knew the Shiv Sena is projecting him (Aaditya Thackeray) as the new party chief so rank and file leaders like him will have to play a secondary role.
The trouble was with leaders like Anil Parab etc who he felt he was getting more importance in this government.
In the previous government from 2014-2019, when Devendra Fadnavis was chief minister, Eknath Shinde was the face of the Shiv Sena in the Maharashtra assembly. Obviously, his stature was not the same in the MVA government.
The distance between him and Uddhav Thackeray was growing day by day and this has led to what we are seeing today.
Is it true that the Tirupati Balaji temple land given in Navi Mumbai by Chief Minister Thackeray was the trigger point because Uddhav did not consult Shinde as urban development minister and simply handed over the land for the temple's construction?
You cannot isolate this one incident.
Most of the decisions in the urban development department was taken by the chief minister.
The power of appointments of bureaucrats and secretaries in his ministry too was taken away from him.
Even appointments in Thane district, from where Eknath Shinde hails and is the guardian minister, those appointments too were taken over the by CM's office.
This made him feel marginalised. He felt his capability as a leader was being under-utilised in the party. There was too much interference in his work.
What is so important about the urban development department that led to the rift between Shinde and Uddhav?
Most of the municipal corporations are run by the urban development department of the Maharashtra government.
Even bodies like the MMRDA (Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) and all municipal corporations come under the urban development department, but here the chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, was taking all the decisions and not the minister concerned.
It is a very important portfolio in Maharashtra.
Do you think the MVA government will fall now?
Right now, the MVA government is in crisis.
They had 170 MLA votes when they formed the government in 2019.
In the Rajya Sabha elections that were held recently in Maharashtra, the MVA got 156 MLA votes.
Yesterday (June 20, 2022), in the Maharashtra legislative council elections, the MVA got 150 votes.
And right now, 12 people have revolted against the government.
We will have to wait and watch to know how many more people are in line to withdraw support to this government.
And if more people revolt openly, then the governor of Maharashtra will tell them to prove their majority in the House, and in that scenario it will be difficult to prove.
Do you feel more MLAs can defect now?
Right now Eknath Shinde has moved out with some MLAs. If other parties see the government is falling, then there are chances that even Congress MLAs can defect. It all depends on how the situation unfolds in the coming days.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut has just said he has established contact with Eknath Shinde. Will matters be sorted out?
Right now, the best that the Shiv Sena can do is a damage control exercise.
One has to understand that Eknath Shinde has not taken this decision all of a sudden. It is a well-thought-out decision. I feel it is difficult for him now to step back.
With 150 MLA votes in the council elections, the MVA has six more than the majority number of 144 needed to run the government.
How will the government fall in this scenario considering the fact that Eknath Shinde can face the anti-defection law unless he walks out with one-third of Shiv Sena MLAs?
There are many fence-sitter MLAs in such a scenario. They just wait and watch.
When they come to know this government is going for sure, they switch sides at the last moment.
At this moment, due to the anti-defection law, a one-third split is required of the Shiv Sena. Eknath Shinde does not have those numbers with him at this moment.
What will the BJP do in this scenario?
At this moment, the BJP will go for the Operation Lotus pattern as they did in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. This is a possibility.
These 11 MLAs who are with Shinde can resign and then by-elections can be held. And if that happens, the MVA government will surely be in trouble to prove its majority.