Both Thackeray, Shinde factions fidgety as they await Supreme Court verdict on Shiv Sena split
Facing disqualification, Eknath Shinde isn’t expanding his cabinet even as floods ravage Maharashtra. Uddhav Thackeray’s supporters are rearing to go on a rampage, but he has managed to rein them in
Even as the Maharashtra govt’s fate continues to hang in the limbo, with the Supreme Court having adjourned its hearing on petitions filed by both the Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde camps for the disqualification of each others' MLAs, a restlessness seems to have overtaken supporters of both the leaders.
While the majority of grassroots Shiv Sainiks continue to regard Thackeray as their leader, they are somewhat sore at being reined in and not being allowed to take to the streets against the rebels. They would rather that Uddhav take a leaf out of his father’s book – which generally means getting violent without caring for the consequences – rather than take the ‘pacifist approach’ through the courts.
The Shinde camp, on its part, is restless in view of the fact that more than two weeks after he and Devendra Fadnavis were sworn in as chief minister and deputy chief minister respectively, they remain as the sole arbiters of the government and there is no larger cabinet in place, which could see further postponement by the apex court’s adjournment.
The farce is fast turning into a tragedy with large portions of Maharashtra under water after two weeks of torrential rainfall and nothing beyond token visits by the duo to the flooded areas being done to alleviate the sufferings of both the farmers – who have had their crops and livestock destroyed – and those in semi-urban areas whose homes are water-logged.
Although his supporters would rather take to the streets, Uddhav Thackeray is conscious of the fact that his father got away with such violence only because he had the continuous support of the ruling governments either in the state or at the Centre. With hostile governments in place there, his Shiv Sainiks could be greatly imperiled in such circumstances, in addition to him possibly losing the sympathy of even others, given that his non-violent approach to the crisis in his party seems to be winning him accolades from even non-traditional Shiv Sena voters.
That, incidentally, is a huge cause for concern to the rebels, given that Maharashtra is due for a series of civic body polls in August and September. Not surprisingly, the BJP has called for their postponement citing the flood situation, even as its rivals point out that a similar situation existed in the state in September-October 2019 when it last went for Assembly elections, with neither voters nor the polls getting affected.
According to senior advocate Ujjwal Nikam, although both sides have petitioned the Supreme Court for disqualification of each others' MLAs – which includes Eknath Shinde himself – there is no bar constitutionally on Shinde expanding his cabinet.
However, according to the very same Constitution, the rebels stand in danger of disqualification for not following due legal process and if this were to happen eventually, it would cause a huge embarrassment to Shinde and his followers.
Meanwhile, while Uddhav Thackeray maintains a stoic silence, his close confidante and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut has threatened to make public a clip from a February 2019 meeting between Uddhav and the then BJP president Amit Shah wherein the Shiv Sena was clearly promised a fifty-fifty shot at the chief minister's office after the Assembly elections which were due six months later.
If that video clip exists and is made public, it will lead to tremendous loss of face for the BJP and silence Uddhav's critics among some of his own supporters who wonder whether it had been advisable to take on the BJP in October 2019 and bring its wrath down on the Shiv Sena.
Raut's assertion of visual evidence came after Raosaheb Danve – then chief of BJP’s Maharashtra unit and now a minister in the Modi cabinet – said that while Uddhav Thackeray and Amit Shah did have a confidential closed door meeting at which other negotiators were not present, Shah had told him that while Uddhav had raised the chief minister issue, he himself had insisted on keeping to the Pramod Mahajan-Bal Thackeray formula of the chief minister's office going to whoever won more seats.
However, that leaves reasonable room for doubt on both sides – of who is telling the truth and if indeed they are telling the whole truth. If Raut's so-called video evidence goes public, it could once again create a shift in alignments in the state.
Meanwhile, constitutional expert Ulhas Bapat is of the view that Shinde would do well not to expand his cabinet since his MLAs and he himself faces the possibility of being disqualified under the anti-defection law. If that happens, his government will fall and fresh elections may be conducted.
Coming close on the heels of Shinde’s rebellion and with Uddhav enjoying a great deal of public sympathy, the rebels are not comfortable at the prospects of elections being held.
Under the circumstances, both sides are fidgety and on the edge as they await the Supreme Court’s verdict.
(Views are personal)