'Not just 12 MPs, but 22 former Shiv Sena MLAs as well as four MLAs who are still in Uddhav Thackeray's camp will be switching to our side gradually.'
With 18 Lok Sabha MPs and three Rajya Sabha MPs, the 56-year-old Shiv Sena is likely headed for a major split, says a senior member of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's faction of the Sena.
"We could soon see 16 Lok Sabha MPs switching their loyalties to join our camp. You can already see the shape of things to come from letters being written to Uddhav saheb (Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray)," this leader from the Shinde faction who is in the know of things tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com. He spoke on condition that his identity would not be revealed in this report as he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the Shinde camp.
Another senior member of the Shinde camp, who was a cabinet minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, says, "Soon you will know who these 12 MPs are."
According to this former minister, only 12 -- not 16 -- Shiv Sena MPs are in talks with Eknath Shinde.
"Not just 12 MPs, but 22 former Shiv Sena MLAs as well as four incumbents who are still in Uddhav Thackeray's camp will be switching to our side gradually," he adds.
"One should see the letter written by the Shiv Sena's Lok Sabha MP Rahul Shewale in this context," says the first Shinde camp leader.
Shewale, the Sena's two-time Mumbai South Central MP on July 5, wrote to Uddhav, asking him to think about supporting the National Democratic Alliance's Presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu.
"Yashwant Sinha is a BJP man already. He joined the Trinamool Congress only after he quit the BJP. So, he is originally from the BJP. So, why not vote in favour of a woman President who is an eminent Adivasi leader?", Shewale tells Rediff.com over the phone.
"My point is that the Shiv Sena should be part of a decision that will help an Adivasi woman get the honour of adorning the highest political office in India," the MP adds.
According to Shewale, Uddhav responded by telling him that a meeting of top Shiv Sena functionaries would be called soon to discuss the proposal in his letter.
"The party president has said that a meeting of the party functionaries would be convened soon and a decision will be taken on this issue," Shewale says about the timing of the meeting. The Presidential election is scheduled for Monday, July 18.
"While Droupadi Murmu will win the Presidential election even without our support, voting for her will only strengthen our party's ideology and send a huge message to the people of India," Shewale adds.
Responding to Shewale's letter, another two-time Shiv Sena MP from Mumbai South Arvind Sawant says, "The party chief will decide and we will follow his directive. His directive will be obeyed by all the MLAs, MPs and Shiv Sena workers."
Shewale has been a four-time chairman of the powerful standing committee of the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, control of which the BJP hopes to wrest from the Shiv Sena when elections to the BMC are held later this year.
Sawant, who also heads the Sena's influential trade union, the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, challenges the Eknath Shinde camp to reveal the names of the Shiv Sena MPs who are in touch with him.
"Let him (Shinde) announce the names of those MPs who are in touch with them. He (Shinde) said so on the floor of the House (the Maharashtra assembly). Let him declare the names of the MPs who are in discussion with him for joining his group and we will send all of them to their camp, This is also our open challenge to them," says Sawant, the deputy leader of the Shiv Sena in the Lok Sabha.
Asked if there is still a possibility of rapprochement between the two Shiv Sena factions as they exist today, the first Shinde camp leader says, "The compromise is beyond the realm of possibility at this stage. I only beg him (Uddhav) and say that compromise is a better option than destroying one's own party."
"I know he will not listen to our pleas, but his party leader (Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut) will only insult us further," this leader adds.
In an interesting revelation, according to this leader, soon after Eknath Shinde left for Surat with a band of 14-15 MLAs on the intervening night of June 20-21, a group of 15 Shiv Sena MLAs had approached Sanjay Raut seeking to meet Thackeray and pleaded with him for a rapprochement, but Raut insulted this group.
"Sanjay Raut kept heaping insults upon us. He said we have a rat's heart inside an elephant's body. That we were not Shiv Sainiks. When we went to meet him and seek a rapprochement with 14-15 MLAs who had broken away, he should have supported us and convinced Uddhav saheb to go for a rapprochement, but he (Raut) had his own ideas," this leader reveals.
Speaking about Shinde's ability to convince 39 Shiv Sena MLAs to rise in revolt against their party in the context of reports of MPs too joining him, he says "Shinde saheb ek dum bhola manoos aahe (Eknath Shinde is a simpleton). He is such a straightforward gentleman. He will be liked by everybody in the BJP."
"Just imagine this. We spend an entire day if we have to break a sarpanch (convince a political party's elected village head to switch sides), and this man effortlessly succeeded in getting 39 Shiv Sena MLAs to his side. There must be something in such a man."