It almost seems like escaping from a hotel during a political coup like in a Bollywood film speaks of one’s loyalty, at least the drama of it makes it seem that way. If the Maharashtra political see-saw was not enough, the adventures of Shiv Sena MLAs — fright and flight — are nothing short of a thriller blockbuster movie, albeit Mumbaiyya style.
THE GREAT ESCAPE FROM MUMBAI TO GUWAHATI
The script of how Jalgaon MLA and Minister of Water Supply and Sanitation Gulabrao Patil, who was not part of the initial Eknath Shinde rebel group in Surat, managed to escape from Mumbai to reach Guwahati takes the prize.
Sources said that when Patil turned incommunicado, the Shiv Sea leadership was informed and a call was made to all south Mumbai-based Sainiks to launch a massive search for the minister. Led by Shakha Pramukh Pandurang Sakpal, hundreds of Sainiks roamed the streets of Mumbai searching for Patil, including at all “possible” hotels, such as the St Regis hotel in Lower Parel.
The instructions were clear—at any cost, Patil should speak to Uddhav Thackeray. But they were unable to get a hold of him.
A call was taken to camp outside the minister’s official bungalow in south Mumbai and, at around 8.30 am, Sakpal spotted Patil. He approached the leader and asked him to contact Uddhav Thackeray, to which Patil said he had already done so and was on his way to Varsha, the chief minister’s official residence. The confidence with which he spoke convinced the Sena workers who let him leave.
Well-planned as it was, Patil used his official car to enter Mantralaya instead of Varsha and escaped in another private vehicle. A party worker said that Patil would have taken the Eastern Express highway and escaped while they waited for him outside the secretariat gates. The next time Patil was seen, he was smiling in the presence of the Eknath Shinde faction of Sena leaders in Guwahati.
‘INJECTIONS IN MY HEAD’
But, a similar drama was happening at the other end.
Another nail-biting escape story of two Shiv Sena MLAs from the “clutches” of Shinde is a classic example of legislators trying to prove their allegiance to the Thackerays: Balasaheb and his son, chief minister Uddhav. Nitin Deshmukh, the Shiv Sena leader who alleged that a conspiracy was hatched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with the Gujarat authorities to abduct him, drew a parallel between his escape and that of “Shivaji’s escape from Aurangzeb’s clutches in Agra”.
The MLA from Belapur constituency in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region further claimed that he was forcibly taken to a hospital, claiming he had suffered a heart attack and injections were administered to his head, which could have even harmed him.
Deshmukh’s wife had filed a missing complaint with the Akola police in which she also claimed that Shinde had taken the MLAs to Surat under duress.
After the “heroic” escape, Deshmukh met the media and made an emotional statement about being a “Uddhav Thackeray Shiv Sainik and a follower of Balasaheb Thackeray”.
“Despite the fact that I was in good health, I was taken to a government hospital in Surat. The police officials whispered between themselves and I could hear them say they wanted to do something to me. I suspected they were going to harm me. Neither my blood pressure was high nor did I have a heart attack, as they claimed. I told them so, but soon after, 15 -20 people surrounded my bed, held me down, and a needle with some medicine was thrust into me,” Deshmukh said.
Deshmukh somehow managed to escape from Surat and land in Nagpur to finally tell his tale and pledge his loyalty to the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena.
The leader also revealed that another Sena MLA from Kolhapur, Prakash Arbitkar, tried to escape but was later caught by the Gujarat police and forced to return to the Surat hotel where Shinde was holding the other MLAs.
Kailas Patil, Sena MLA from Osmanabad, had another thrilling “fleeing” experience. He had to hitch a ride from Surat on a two-wheeler, then a truck, and then walked several kilometres to finally land in the safe hands of his leader, Uddhav Thackeray.
Kailas Patil claimed that he had gone to Thane to attend a dinner hosted by Eknath Shinde on June 20. Shinde’s PA offered to take him and four other MLAs to the venue. He agreed and got into the car. After a point, Patil asked the PA where he was being taken as they had crossed Thane and entered the Vasai-Virar belt. Shinde’s man kept saying “thoda aage”. Patil turned suspicious, asked to step out of the car to stretch his legs at a check post, and quickly jumped out of the almost-moving vehicle.
In order to find his way back, Patil walked around 4 kilometres and no vehicle stopped to help him until a truck with an Uttar Pradesh number plate gave him a ride to the Dahisar toll naka. “I called the chief minister’s residence from the Dahisar toll naka and a vehicle was sent to pick me up,” he recounted.
This is not just the story of Maharashtra, in neighbouring Karnataka too, a similar situation was witnessed in 2019. But there was a Mumbai connection to this as well.
Kagwad MLA Shrimant Balasaheb Patil had gone missing from the famous Eagleton resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru ahead of the crucial floor test in the Karnataka assembly. The trust vote was necessitated after 15 MLAs resigned from the Congress and JD(S), plunging the HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government to a minority.
In order to keep their flock together, the Congress and JD(S) transported their MLAs to Eagleton, a star hotel that also falls in the constituency of Bangalore Rural MP, DK Suresh, brother of Congress leader DK Shivakumar, who was part of the safeguarding team. However, on the night of July 18, 2019, Patil escaped, leaving his party leaders red-faced.
Patil later released a video from a hospital bed in Mumbai, claiming that he had left the resort to go to Chennai on personal work.
“I felt uneasy and experienced chest pain. I did not know anyone in the city. So I came to Mumbai and got myself tested. The doctor advised me to be hospitalised,” his statement said. Soon after his discharge, Patil was accompanied by senior BJP leader Laxman Savadi from Mumbai airport to be placed in the BJP’s camp.
While Indian politics and drama will continue to remain soulmates, one also should understand that the voters are watching. It may seem like a good, thrilling read, but at the heart of it, elected representatives owe it to their constituents to deliver their promises.