Eknath Shinde and rebels run into legal and Constitutional hurdles

The Constitution of the Shiv Sena gives absolute power to the Shiv Sena Pramukh elected for five years. The next election is due in 2023 ahead of the assembly polls

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray
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Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

Is Shiv Sena rebel leader Eknath Shinde receiving correct legal and political advice is the question being asked increasingly in Maharashtra. While Shinde, suggested some reports, flew to Gujarat last night for a clandestine meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah, the rebels seem to be running into legal and Constitutional hurdles in their bid to take over the Shiv Sena, oust Uddhav Thackeray or split it.

The BJP, caught by surprise at the push back by Shiv Sainiks, has officially distanced itself. Chandrakant Patil, the Maharashtra President of the BJP, has put out an official statement stating his party has nothing to do with the crisis and that it is an internal matter of the Shiv Sena. The distancing comes after Shinde claimed he had the support of a major national party and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar released a list of six national parties including his own, the two communist parties, the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, pointing out by deduction that if none of the other five were supporting the rebellion, it had to be the BJP.

Shinde quickly backtracked and declared he was not in touch with any national party and even Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had personally welcomed the rebels to Guwahati feigned ignorance of the rebels’ presence and claimed that everyone was welcome to his state.

The distancing seems to be happening for more than one reason – there is a groundswell of support for Uddhav Thackeray who has not thrown in the towel as expected while there is little evidence of similar support for Eknath Shinde though he had posters printed declaring himself the “Shiv Sena Pramukh".

Now the Shiv Sena Pramukh has always been just one person - Bal Thackeray and, after him, Uddhav Thackeray.

The Sena began as a militia of lumpens in the 1960s and then morphed to a social organisation working on the lines of an NGO but also contesting elections at the grassroots with moderate success. However, during the Emergency in 1975, nine years after its formation, when it found itself under the threat of being banned by the then union government, Thackeray took swift steps to ensure that did not happen. First, he retracted opposition to the Emergency and declared support to Mrs Indira Gandhi and then he had a party constitution drawn up – in English, with liberal, Marathi terminologies, which was then registered with the Election Commission of India.

According to this constitution, the Shiv Sena Pramukh is to be elected by the Pratinidhi Sabha which, according to their constitution, comprises members of the Rashtriya Karyakarini and heads of various district units, deputy leaders of the party, vibhag pramukhs, MLAs and MPs from Maharashtra and those from other states if they have a ten percent representation in their respective assemblies and five percent of the number of Lok Sabha seats from their respective states.

The Sena Pramukh is the party chief and the Pratinidhi Sabha elects 14 members to the Rashtriya Karyakarini while five members are nominated to the executive by the Sena Pramukh. At the present moment Uddhav Thackeray has been elected by the Pratinìdhi Sabha for a term of five years, first in 2013 and then 2018. The next election is due in 2023 and would be too close to both the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls for Shinde to seize the party and make a difference – provided he is able to persuade all 280-odd members of the Pratinidhi Sabha to root for him. He failed to win a place among the 14 members of the Rashtriya Karyakarini the last time and was among the five members nominated by the Shiv Sena Pramukh. He has been now expelled from all his party posts under the absolute powers afforded to the Shiv Sena Pramukh by the party constitution.

Obviously, neither the BJP nor Shinde thought of the legal complications in grabbing the Shiv Sena from the Shiv Sena Pramukh, nor of the constitutional measures available to Uddhav Thackeray both in the government and the party. Some 18 rebels have already been disqualified by Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal and Shinde's attempt to move a no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker has also fallen by the wayside on two counts - the no-confidence notice was given through an unrecognised e-mail which was declared as invalid for that reason and, according to the law, Zirwal had full rights to take the action as the notice in reaction to the disqualification came after and not before as it should have.

The Marathi diaspora is full of mockery for Shinde ‘s attempt to take over the Shiv Sena and, surprisingly, much of the support for Uddhav Thackeray is also coming in from local Congressmen with legal expertise who are offering him informed support on how to crush the rebellion.

Although he has moved out of the chief minister’s official residence, the business of government is going on as usual. Sainiks hitting the streets in his support have not yet caused a law and order issue, restricting themselves to tearing up posters and hoardings put up by the rebels.

Under the circumstances there are only two options left to them – they accept Uddhav's challenge for a floor test or merge with the BJP, for constitutionally and legally they cannot be a separate party in the legislature.

The rebels have also been unimaginative in naming themselves – they wish to call themselves 'Shiv Sena Bal Thackeray Party'. That has brought about a sneering challenge from Uddhav – contest under the names of your own fathers and not mine, if you have the guts. In the battle to grab the Shiv Sena between Uddhav and his cousin Raj Thackeray, people had rooted for the son and not the look-alike nephew. They are now unlikely to throw over the son for an outsider.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai)

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