Digging in his heels, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday expressed his determination to fight the political crisis gripping his government and took on cabinet minister Eknath Shinde, saying just as the rebel leader's son is a Lok Sabha MP, should his son Aaditya Thackeray not also grow politically, as both sides showed no signs of backing down over the four-day-old impasse..
Thackeray said Shinde was given the key department of urban development which is usually headed by the chief minister of the day, and publicly blamed the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for the rebellion in the Shiv Sena which has threatened the stability of his Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government which also consists of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
In a virtual address to party functionaries, the Shiv Sena president said he was not worried over the defection by MLAs as he considers them "fruits and flowers of a tree which have been blighted by disease".
"You make take the fruits and flowers of the tree. But till the roots (rank and file) are strong, I need not worry. The roots can never be uprooted. Every season, new leaves and fruits blossom. Leaves blighted by disease need to be removed and thrown. Consider the present situation in this context," Thackeray told the party rank and file.
He said he may have moved out of the official residence of the chief minister, but his determination to fight the crisis remains intact.
''I have given up the temptation by moving out of the chief minister's official bungalow (Varsha) but not my determination to fight back," he asserted, and made it clear he is not after power.
Thackeray said Shinde told him some time back that Sena MLAs feel the party should get back with former ally BJP.
"What kind of Shiv Sainiks are you? Don't you feel agitated by the BJP's use and throw policy and when baseless charges are made against Matoshree (the private residence of the Thackerays in suburban Bandra)," he said.
"The department of urban development, which is currently with Shinde, had been always with the chief minister. Your son (Shrikant Shinde) can be an MP, but should not Aaditya also grow politically," he asked.
Shrikant Shinde is the Lok Sabha MP from Kalyan, while the CM's son, Aaditya Thackeray, is a state cabinet minister holding the environment and tourism portfolios.
Hitting out at Shinde, who is camping in Assam with rebel MLAs, Thackeray said, "He was made a minister twice after Balasaheb Thackeray's death (in 2012). Twice we were in power (after 2012). He was given the departments which are normally kept by the chief minister himself. You should keep the Thackeray name out of your politics and see if you can survive. One can never detach the Thackerays from the Shiv Sena," he said.
The party has suffered electoral reverses several times, but victory or defeat depends on one's state of mind, he said, adding, "Let's consider we have no one with us, we have to create a new Shiv Sena."
"Consider we are starting from scratch. If you feel you have better prospects going with the rebels, you can leave. I will not stop you. The (rebel) MLAs (camping) in Guwahati are prisoners. We have to see how we can bring them back," the CM said.
Thackeray offered to quit as the Sena president if Shiv Sainiks feel he is incapable of running the organisation.
"I am not blackmailing you. If you feel I am incompetent to run the party, I am ready to quit (as Sena president). The chief minister's post is inconsequential for me," he said as the functionaries shouted slogans in his support.
The CM said for Sena founder Bal Thackeray, the party was more dear to him than him (Uddhav).
"If I am incapable of running the party, even Balasaheb wouldn't have forgiven me," he said.
Thackeray said in the last two years, he battled his own ill-health and also presided over the state's fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
"After the pandemic surge reduced, around Diwali (last year) my spinal cord was compressed. I could not stand or walk. An MRI revealed my spinal cord was compressed for which an urgent surgery was required.
"As I was recovering, my body movements stopped right from my neck to the toe for which I underwent another surgery. The opponents thought this was the right time to strike since they felt I may never stand on my feet again," Thackeray said.
Maintaining a defiant posture, Shinde claimed the group led by him was the "real Shiv Sena", and also hit back, saying he and his supporters will not be intimidated by disqualification threats.
In a series of tweets posted late Thursday night, Shinde, who is camping in Guwahati along with 37 Sena legislators and 10 independents, said as per the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, a party whip is issued for the legislature proceedings and not for attending a meeting.
The Shiv Sena led by Thackeray has sought the disqualification of 12 legislators from the Shinde camp for not attending the legislature party meeting on Wednesday.
A day after claiming that a "powerful national party" was supporting his group of MLAs in the ongoing political drama in Maharashtra, Shinde on Friday said no national party is in contact with them.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut admitted that the party's numbers in the legislative assembly have dwindled, but expressed confidence that the rebel MLAs will support the Maha Vikas Aghadi combine during a floor test.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena suffered yet another setback as one more party MLA, Dilip Lande, joined the camp of rebel legislators.
Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe, who is also the legislative council deputy chairperson and addressed the party functionaries, said the rebel MLAs group will have to merge with a political party to escape disqualification from the assembly.
The rebels cannot use the name of Shiv Sena, she said.