The Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra coalition government, known as Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), on Tuesday faced its worst crisis since coming into power in 2019 after senior Shiv Sena leader and state cabinet minister Eknath Shinde went against the party and took some rebel MLAs to BJP-ruled Gujarat, putting a huge question mark on the stability of the two-and-a-half-year-old MVA government.
Launching a damage control exercise, Chief Minister Thackeray sent his confident Shiv Sena leader Milind Narvekar and Shinde’s close aide Ravi Pathak to the Le Meridian Hotel in Gujarat’s Surat city where the MLA from Thane district is camping with dissident Shiv Sena MLAs. The agenda was to meet Shinde (58) and to try to defuse the crisis, which happened hours after the Legislative Council polls, which saw the opposition BJP managing to get its fifth candidate elected, possibly due to cross-voting in its favor from the ruling bloc besides support from Independents and MLAs of other parties.
The Shiv Sena, which heads the MVA, has 55 MLAs, followed by allies NCP (53) and the Congress (44) in the 288-assembly where the current simple majority mark is 144. There is one vacancy due to the death of a Sena MLA last month. The current strength of the assembly is 287. Fifteen independent legislators and MLAs from smaller parties support the MVA government, taking the number to 167.
The BJP has 106 MLAs of its own and is backed by one lawmaker each from the Raj Thackeray-led MNS, the Swabhimani Paksh, the Rashtriya Samaj Paksh, the Jan Surajya Party and six independents, taking its tally with allies to 116.
Here are the key updates on startling turn of events of ongoing political turmoil in Maharashtra:
- Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut claimed 14 to 15 Sena MLAs, including some ministers, are with Shinde in Gujarat’s Surat city. However, another party leader said the number could be 23. Raut alleged two of the MLAs, including Nitin Deshmukh, have been beaten up and he has suffered a heart attack.
- To circumvent the anti-defection law, Shinde will need two-thirds of the 55 Sena MLAs which comes to 37, on his side.
- This entire episode prompted Thackeray to call an urgent meeting of Shiv Sena legislators and leaders at his official residence ‘Varsha’ in south Mumbai. After which, the party swiftly moved against Shinde and removed him as the Sena’s group leader in the Legislative Assembly and replaced him with Ajay Choudhury.
- Without naming his Thackeray, Shinde tweeted that he will never “cheat for power” and abandon the teachings of party founder late Bal Thackeray. “We are staunch Shiv Sainiks of Balasaheb who gave us lessons on Hindutva. We will never cheat for power and will never abandon the teachings of Balasaheb and Anand Dighe for power,” Shinde tweeted in Marathi. It was his first comment so far since the news broke of his action against the party.
- After meeting Narvekar and Ravi Pathak who were sent to Surat by Thackeray, Shinde said, “I am with Hindutva and Shiv Sena has left Hindutva. I will not return to Shiv Sena.”
- Chief Minister Thackeray, Congress leaders Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan and NCP state president Jayant Patil met on Tuesday evening to discuss the situation and find a way out of the crisis. All MVA partners – the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP – have blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the current political turmoil in the state.
- Sena MP Raut, however, asserted the BJP’s attempt to destabilize the MVA government, which came into existence in November 2019, will not succeed.
- NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose party is the second largest constituent in the MVA, said CM Thackeray will handle the political crisis and described it as an “internal matter” of the Shiv Sena, which snapped its ties with the BJP and joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to form the MVA government.
- Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil has said that some MLAs of the BJP will meet Shinde in Surat in their “personal capacity” even as he distanced his party from the ongoing political turmoil. Patil also said if BJP receives any proposal from Shinde to form a government, they would “definitely consider it”. He admitted that BJP MLA from Maharashtra, Sanjay Kute, had met Shinde. Patil said the next 24 hours will be crucial and that the BJP is closely watching the developments.
- Meanwhile, Shiv Sena MLAs, who are supporting Thackeray, have been shifted to a hotel in Lower Parel near Mumbai to protect them from poaching. On the other hand, those party MLAs who are camping in Surat with Shinde are expected to travel to Guwahati.
- Thackeray has called for a cabinet meeting on Wednesday at 1 pm to discuss the future course of action.
(with inputs from PTI)