Eknath Shinde banking on the Supreme Court to bail him out

Eknath Shinde Group is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether there has been a split in the Shiv Sena or just a leadership change as he claims. He will not risk a cabinet expansion till then

Courtesy- Twitter/@TheJokerBhai
Courtesy- Twitter/@TheJokerBhai
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Sujata Anandan

Ideally, Eknath Shine would have liked himself and his supporters to be expelled from the Shiv Sena. It would still not have sorted out all their problems but at least it would have prevented their merger with the BJP, Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (which has one MLA in the Maharashtra Assembly) or with Bachchu Kadu's two-member Prahar Party which has put that offer on the table.

However, any of that completely destroys the identity of the rebels as Shiv Sainiks. Hence, Shinde has attempted to add to the confusion by stating that there is no split in the mother party, it is only a family dispute and they are waiting for a reconciliation.

The rebel group however cannot escape the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which clearly forbids a split in any political party. If they have two-thirds of the MLAs or MPs with them, they must necessarily merge with another political party or recontest their seats to return to the House. None of these rebels, including Shinde, holds that kind of sway over their constituencies without the backing of the Shiv Sena and that is why the attempt to grab Matoshree, the Thackeray headquarters.

Another reason for making out that there has been only a change in leadership in the party and not a split per se is because it seems uncertain that the Election Commission will award the bow-and-arrow symbol of the Shiv Sena to the rebel group. Going by past precedents in the cases of Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sharad Pawar-PA Sangma, Chirag Paswan or even Sharad Yadav, the symbol is most likely to be either frozen because there is no way the Shinde group can prove that there has been a vertical split in the party or they may be awarded a fresh symbol.

Says senior political analyst Abhay Deshpande, “It is only a bunch of MLAs and MPs who have broken from Uddhav Thackeray. How can you prove there is a vertical split among the voters or party supporters? Even Sharad Pawar was unable to prove a vertical split in the Congress in 1999.”

Uddhav Thackeray has suffered a major shock, just as Sonia Gandhi did then. But a majority of party supporters rallied around her then and the same is happening with Uddhav Thackeray now. “So you simply cannot say there is a vertical split in the Shiv Sena,”says Deshpande.

Deshpande points out that there has been a major shift in perception between a month ago when Shinde won the vote of confidence in the Assembly and today when Uddhav Thackeray has gained much momentum and garnered huge sympathy from the people.

“Now that sympathy is likely to surge even if Shinde succeeds in freezing the bow-and-arrow symbol. That sympathy will multiply manifold. It is not going to be easy for these rebels.”

There is some restlessness among a group of the rebels who may seek re-entry into the Shiv Sena because it is becoming increasingly apparent that Shinde, who promised all of them a cabinet berth, will not be able to accommodate more than 14 or 15 of them as the BJP would wants its pound of flesh too. “That is why there is no cabinet so far because those disappointed might return to the Shiv Sena and screw up their case in the Supreme Court. That is why they will wait until the Apex Court gives its ruling and only then risk anything,” adds Deshpande.

Most political observers are of the view that even if a section of the rebels are having second thoughts, Uddhav Thackeray is unlikely to accept their multiple olive 🫒 branches – they have made it clear to the BJP that they will not stand for abuse of any of the Thackerays, they are blaming Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut rather than Uddhav for the split and are training their guns on NCP president Sharad Pawar who had engineered the first split (with Chhagan Bhujbal) in the Shiv Sena rather than the Thackerays to leave a window open for reconciliation.

But both Uddhav and his son Aaditya Thackeray are slamming both doors and windows on them, labelling the rebels as dirty gutter water that has thankfully flowed out of the party.

“Never in this lifetime (will the reconciliation happen),” says Prakash Akolkar, author of 'Jai Maharashtra', a popular book in Marathi on the Shiv Sena. Shinde will never be able to get back to the Shiv Sena even if some lesser known MLAs might though their futures will still be under question, he says. “But in the meantime, Shinde must confuse the people by saying his is the true Shiv Sena and that is why that argument in the Supreme Court. The rebels are both confused by what is happening and confusing the people by their arguments in court.”

Deshpande agrees. “Uddhav and Aaditya have openly labelled the rebels as ’gaddaars’. (Traitors). And going by the Shiv Sena in the times of Bal Thackray, there is no room in the party for traitors.”

Adds Raju Parulekar, popular television p personality in Maharashtra who has been close to both Uddhav and Raj Thackeray but now keeps an equal distance from both, “The Shiv Sena recovered from a major shock after Chhagan Bhujbal split during Bal Thackeray’s time and bounced back on its feet, even getting more seats in the Assembly than before. Even Bhujbal (who had the backing of Sharad Pawar) and his supporters lost. A few of them returned to the Shiv Sena but no one now knows who they are. However, Bhujbal and the few who stayed with him lasted quite long and made something of themselves. That is not likely to happen with Shinde and his group. They are likely to sink even faster.”

How fast? Months, rather than years, says Parulekar with conviction. Perhaps that is why the urgency to befuddle the people and grab Matoshree.

But then that is home to the Thackerays, even if it is also the party headquarters. Shinde has an uphill task facing him.

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