Struggling to contain the implosion triggered by party leader Eknath Shinde's rebellion, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena on Sunday launched a vitriolic attack on the dissidents with party MP Sanjay Raut passing controversial remarks and daring the rebels to quit as MLAs and face fresh polls while Sena cadres continued to stage protests on the streets.
Amid the intense power tussle between the Shinde camp and Thackeray, the Centre on Sunday extended Y-plus security cover of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) commandos to at least 15 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, officials said.
Their families living in Maharashtra too will be secured as the security blanket entails house protection teams, they said.
A day earlier, rebel leader Eknath Shinde had accused the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of withdrawing security from the residences of 38 party rebels, including himself, and their families, and dubbed the action as 'political vendetta', although Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil denied any such move.
On Sunday, Raut and Yuva Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray slammed the rebels while addressing Shiv Sena workers.
Accusing the dissident Shiv Sena MLAs of having 'monstrous ambitions', Aaditya said even if all the party legislators turn rebels, victory will always be of the party.
Addressing the Sena workers in Mumbai for the second consecutive day, he also said that the doors of the state and party are closed for the rebels MLAs.
Striking an aggressive note, Raut said the present crisis was an opportunity to resurrect Shiv Sena.
"We have learnt a lesson on whom to trust....These are bodies whose souls have died. Their mind is dead....40 bodies will come from Assam and will be sent directly to the morgue for postmortem," Raut said in an apparent reference to the number of MLAs camping in Guwahati with Shinde while addressing Sena cadres.
Majority of Shiv Sena MLAs have sided with Shinde and are currently camping in Guwahati, plunging the MVA government led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads the Sena, into a crisis.
"My open challenge to the rebels is to resign and seek a fresh mandate from their electorate. In the past, Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and their supporters had resigned as Sena MLAs to join other parties. Even (Union minister) Jyotiraditya Scindia supporters in Madhya Pradesh had resigned as Congress MLAs (in March 2020)," Raut told reporters in Mumbai.
The Sena rank and file are already on the ground waiting for a signal from the leadership, he said, hinting that the party was ready to take on the rebels.
Raut scoffed at Shinde's tweet last night, in which he urged the Sena workers to have faith in him and that he was trying to save the party from the 'python clutches' of MVA allies.
"Don't know if these people are drugged. They have been in power for two-and-a-half years getting the most plum portfolios as ministers," Raut said.
The Sena hardened its stand against the rebels as the deadline set by the Maharashtra legislature secretariat for 16 rebel Sena MLAs, including Eknath Shinde, seeking written replies over the complaints seeking their disqualification neared.
They had been told to file replies by the evening of June 27.
As both the factions of Shiv Sena have dug in their heels, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Sunday met leaders of NCP, Congress ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan, and Shiv Sena's Anil Parab and Anil Desai to discuss the political fallout of the six-day-old rebellion.
Raut said the party doors are open for those MLAs who wish to come back.
"I am in touch with many of them. Let's see if BJP makes Shinde a CM," he said.
Referring to the reports of Shinde's secret meetings with BJP leaders, he further said, "If you have guts, use your own father's name to get votes or your fathers in Vadodara, Surat, Delhi."
He lashed out at the BJP saying they are sponsoring the rebels when Assam is braving floods causing loss of lives and property.
While Shiv Sena leaders locked horns with MLAs by slamming them, Shiv Sena workers and its local functionaries led the battle on the streets by staging 'jode maro' (hit with footwear) protests outside Balgandharva auditorium and in Kothrud in Pune and raised slogans against the rebels.
The party workers were seen hitting Shinde's photo with footwear.
In Mumbai, a large number of party workers, including women, assembled outside the office of Saamana, at Prabhadevi and took out a two-wheeler rally raising slogans against Shinde and rebel MLAs.
A signboard carrying the name of Byculla MLA Yamini Jadhav, who is one of the rebels, was found blackened.
The board is positioned under the Byculla bridge, a police official said.
Meanwhile, another Shiv Sena leader and cabinet minister for higher and technical education, Uday Samant, has landed in Guwahati.
So far, five Shiv Sena ministers have joined the camp of rebels, besides another minister Bachu Kadu of Prahar Janshakti Party and an Independent minister from Sena quota, Rajendra Yedravkar, are also been camping with Shinde.
Meanwhile, Assam ministers Ashok Singhal and Pijush Hazarika on Sunday visited the luxury hotel in Guwahati, where Eknath Shinde is camping with other MLAs, and held a series of discussions with them, sources said.
Senior Congress leader Ajoy Kumar has alleged that the BJP-led Assam government was busy serving 'cocktail-mocktail' to dissident Maharashtra MLAs in the luxury hotel but was not able to even provide free drinking water to flood-affected people in the state.