Did the ED push Eknath Shinde into BJP’s arms?
For Eknath Shinde, holding the plum portfolio of urban development, to wake up to Hindutva after two and a half years in Government, is an alibi both flimsy and desperate
Eknath Shinde, the Shiv Sena rebel, was possibly won over by the Election Directorate, as the Enforcement Directorate is becoming known in political circles in Mumbai, of the BJP, is the buzz in Mumbai.
The desperation of the BJP, which has been trying to topple the MVA Government, shows as Shinde was shifted overnight from Surat in Gujarat to Assam on Tuesday.
Shinde, the senior most Shiv Sena leader in the MVA government, Shiv Sena insiders claimed, was under siege from the Enforcement Directorate and was left with no option but to align with the BJP and face future political ruin or remain with the Shiv Sena and face arrest by the ED.
Shinde, in recognition of his seniority, was given the Urban Development department by Uddhav Thackeray in a state where generally the department is always retained by the chief minister. Both BJP and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra have always been focused on real estate and builders.
Builders in Mumbai are said to be very happy with the Maha Vikas Aghadi government which has streamlined their system of permissions, licences and returns allowing them to make more accurate estimates about their profits at launching projects. However, the ED, say Shiv Sena sources, have used information on Shinde’s assets to convey a message to him and pushed him into the arms of the BJP.
Shinde’s claim after two and a half years in the Government that his conscience is not allowing him to compromise on Hindutva has given the game away. The alibi, coming after he held a plum post for two and a half years in the Government, is being taken with a liberal pinch of salt in Mumbai.
Most of the MLAs said to be with him are similarly being probed by ED, which has an abysmal record in convictions but which has exercised its power to arrest under the PMLA Act to devastating effect. Shiv Sena insiders recall former Congress Minister Harshwardhan Patil, asked what he gained by joining the BJP, had quipped, “At least I sleep easy at night without fear of the ED or other agencies knocking at my doors!” The Sena rebels, tired of harassment by the ED, are now inclined to buy peace even if they lose the election later as Patil did.
The claim on TV channels on Tuesday that more than 30 Shiv Sena MLAs have rebelled appears to be an exaggeration.The Shiv Sena has already accounted for most of those on the list of rebels and the BJP is in need of more MLAs in order to form a government in Maharashtra. Congress and Nationalist Congress party have swiftly secured their flocks but it's now clear that the crossvoting that took place from Congress ranks during the Vidhan Parishad elections and the lone Sena MLA who deliberately ensured that his vote at the Rajya Sabha polls would be declared invalid acted under coercion or quid-pro-quo.
The Shiv Sena, which is trying hard to resolve the issue, sent trouble shooters to Surat in Gujarat, when Shinde made it clear that he was still with the Shiv Sena but would like the party to form a government with the BJP and not sacrifice on Bal Thackeray’s Hindutva.
Uddhav Thackeray faces possibly the deepest crisis of his political career and how he resolves it could make or break him and his party. His rebellion against the BJP in 2019 was based on the recognition that the BJP was out to decimate his party and any giving in to the demand to ally with the BJP again could sound the death knell of his party because the BJP is unlikely to forgive or forget all that has gone between them in the past.
He has also been redefining Hindutva to fit in with the larger concept of Hindu liberalism and the principle of Sarva Dharma Sambhav. When Thackeray Sr. had cottoned on to Hindutva in the mid-1980s, his rhetoric was too shrill for even the BJP which then had been experimenting with Gandhian socialism. Today, no one can do Hindutva better than the BJP and returning to its fold will completely submerge his party’s identity and make him a weakling who could not stand up to blackmail from his own legislators.
If the situation is not resolved amicably, the MVA partners may choose a mid-term poll ceding the government to the BJP. With several municipal elections round the corner as well, the stakes are very high for both sides, though MVA members insist that while they are facing a crisis, they are not worried about an imminent fall of their government. And that the desperation is all on the side of the BJP and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.