In a big blow to Uddhav Thackeray, the Election Commission on Friday allotted the name ’Shiv Sena' and its poll symbol ’bow and arrow' to the group led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
In a unanimous order on the six-month-old petition filed by Shinde, the three-member Commission said it had relied on the numerical strength of the party in the legislative wing, where the chief minister enjoyed the support of 40 of the 55 MLAs and 13 of the 18 Lok Sabha members.
It gave a detailed reasoning on why it was forced to ignore the claims of the rival factions led by Shinde and Thackeray respectively over the organisational wing of the party, contending that the amendments to the Shiv Sena constitution in 2018, after the death of founder Balasaheb Thackeray, were undemocratic and paved the way to appoint people from a coterie as office-bearers without any election at all.
Shinde described the EC verdict as a "victory of truth and people as well as blessings of Balasaheb Thackeray" while a furious Uddhav Thackeray, the former Maharashtra chief minister, said he would approach the Supreme Court against the EC order.
This is for the first time that the Thackeray family has lost control of the party that was founded in 1966 by Balasaheb Thackeray on the principles of justice for the sons of the soil.
Later, the party adopted Hindutva as its key ideology and partnered with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1984, an alliance that continued till 2019 when Uddhav Thackeray joined hands with arch-rivals Nationalist Congress Party and Congress to become the chief minister.
Shinde broke ranks with Thackeray in June last year and formed the government in alliance with the BJP, claiming support of 40 of the 55 Shiv Sena MLAs and 13 of the 18 Lok Sabha members.
The Commission noted that party constitutions are often amended to allow for its self-destruction by obliterating internal democratic mechanisms.
It said by the time the dispute reaches the Commission, party constitutions are often seen to have been mutilated to undemocratically appoint people from a coterie as office bearers without any election at all.
Such party structures fail to inspire the confidence of the Commission, forcing it to ignore the numerical strength of opposing factions in the organisational wing altogether despite being conscious of its importance and role as the building block of the party.
The Commission said it applied the principles of 'test of party constitution' and the 'test of majority' while finalising the order.
The Commission said that the respondent (Thackeray faction) had relied heavily on the 2018 constitution of the party to stake claim to the poll symbol and the organisation.
It said that the party had not informed the Commission about the 2018 amendments to the constitution.
"The amended constitution of 2018 is not on record of the Commission," the order said.
It noted that the 2018 amendments had undone the act of introducing democratic norms in the party constitution of 1999 and the functioning of Shiv Sena, brought by Balasaheb Thackeray at the insistence of the Commission.
The Commission allowed the Thackeray faction to retain the name Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and the ’flaming torch' poll symbol, given to it in an interim order in October last year, till the conclusion of ongoing assembly bypolls in the state.
In its order, the Commission said 40 MLAs, supporting the Shinde faction, garnered 36,57,327 votes out of total 47,82,440 votes, which accounts for approximately 76 per cent of votes polled in favour of 55 winning MLAs.
This was in contrast with 11,25,113 votes garnered by 15 MLAs whose support is claimed by the Thackeray faction.
As against 90,49,789, the total votes polled by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra assembly election in 2019 (including the losing candidates), the votes polled by 40 MLAs supporting Shinde were approximately 40 per cent, while the votes polled by 15 MLAs supporting Thackeray were about 12 per cent.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the 13 MPs supporting Shinde had polled 74,88,634 votes out of total 1,02,45,143 votes, which works out to nearly 73 per cent of votes polled in favour of the party's total 18 members who won the 2019 parliamentary polls.
This contrasts with 27,56,509 votes garnered by the five Lok Sabha members supporting the Thackeray faction, which account for 27 per cent of votes polled in favour of the 18 members.