'The BJP is using its money and muscle power to break the MVA government.'
With reports of 13 Shiv Sena MLAs being untraceable after back-to-back setbacks in the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections, the speculation about the three-party Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra being on the brink and the Bharatiya Janata Party once again making a comeback in the state are gaining momentum.
Chief among those Shiv Sena MLAs whose phones are unreachable and who are untraceable include Maharashtra's Urban Development and Public Works Minister Eknath Shinde.
The 106-strong BJP, which made an unsuccessful bid to form a government along with the Nationalist Congress Party's Ajit Pawar in an early morning drama in November 2019, is once again being speculated to be engineering a split in the Shiv Sena and the NCP.
"The BJP is at it again. It is using its money and muscle power to break the MVA government from the day we formed the three-party coalition. They have reportedly kept a Rs 200 crore war chest ready to entice MVA MLAs to its fold," says a Shiv Sena leader who confirmed that Shinde along with 11 party MLAs did not attend the meeting called by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on the intervening night of June 20-21.
According to a Shinde aide from Thane, the minister is currently at Surat's Le Meridien hotel with 13 Shiv Sena legislators and is likely to officially approach the Maharashtra assembly speaker soon to accept his group as a political party.
It is in this political tumult that BJP leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis's flight to Delhi has caused a flutter among ruling coalition leaders.
"The MVA's days are numbered," says a BJP leader who is in the thick of things.
"While it is certain that the MVA will collapse in the coming days I cannot say with much certainty whether we will form the next government or prefer to go for mid-term polls," the senior BJP leader says, speaking on condition that his name should not be revealed in this report.
The five successful BJP candidates in Monday's Legislative Council elections garnered 133 votes, a figure that is just 11 short for the BJP to win a simple majority in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly. "And the Shiv Sena can easily plug this gap," says this BJP leader.
Thackeray has called a meeting of all Sena legislators -- including those who are reportedly missing -- at his official residence Varsha at noon today amid reports that Shinde will likely hold a press conference at the same time that Uddhav has called the meeting.
"It's all wait-and-watch now for us. Shinde's presence or absence at today's meeting will set the ball rolling from here. Shinde did not attend the meeting of our MLAs yesterday night as well. He has been untraceable since yesterday," says another Shiv Sena leader.
The NCP too is in a state of tizzy with the sudden turn of events. When asked about the reported split in the Shiv Sena, an NCP leader says, "The anti-defection law is very clear about how many MLAs need to split from a party to give it any official status. So let's see how it goes."
"We are all looking up to what (NCP chief Sharad) Pawar saheb and Uddhavji strategise to save the MVA boat from rocking," he adds.
The Congress whose candidate Chandrakant Handore was pipped to the post by the BJP's Prasad Lad for the tenth Legislative Council seat is also trying to keep its flock together.
"The Congress high command has called all its Maharashtra MLAs to Delhi today. We are all leaving for Delhi this afternoon," reveals a Congress minister in the MVA government.
"We are really distressed as seven of our MLAs seem to have cross-voted in the Legislative Council election. There is no doubt that we are unable to contain the restlessness of our MLAs. It is true that many of the MVA MLAs as well as the Independents and smaller parties that supported the MVA are not too happy with the way the MVA has ruled for the first two-and-a-0half years," he says.
However, all the MVA constituents expressed confidence that this storm too will pass and there is no danger to the MVA government in the state.