Eknath Shinde group boasts of manhandling rival Sena MLAs
With MLAs coming to blows at the Vidhan Sabha this week and with political stakes even higher than before, chances of clashes between rival political factions seem to be increasing in Maharashtra
After MLAs came to blows on the stairs to the Vidhan Sabha on Wednesday, the chief whip of the Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena has now confirmed that they had assaulted rival MLAs. Boasting that they were not manhandled by the rivals, Bharat Gogawale said on record that MLAs owing allegiance to Shinde were the ones who manhandled others.
Irked by slogans of "Pannas Khokhe, Ekdum OK” (A 'khoka' means Rs 1 crore) and “Bhajapa Chi Taat Wati, Chalo Guwahati, Chalo Guwahati” (Let us fly to Guwahati where BJP has opened its purse strings), Maharashtra MLAs belonging to the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena manhandled legislators belonging to the Uddhav Thackeray faction this week on the stairs of the state Assembly.
The whisper campaign that each Shiv Sena rebel was paid Rs 50 crore to switch sides and bring down the Uddhav Thackeray-led government, which began while the rebels were still holed up in Guwahati in June this year, appears to have found resonance among the people.
To the embarrassment of both the Shinde faction and the BJP, it is now widely believed that money did change hands and that the amount was indeed ‘Pannas Khokhe’ or Rs 50 crore per MLA.
The inability of the ruling faction to dispel the public perception has added to their frustration. Following the ugly fisticuff, jostling and manhandling witnessed on Wednesday, NCP Member of Parliament Supriya Sule wondered if the Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Prime Minister Modi supported such ‘goondagardi’ or hooliganism.
Maharashtra in recent years has been relatively free of unruly scenes witnessed in several northern state assemblies where members were seen uprooting fixed microphones and hurling them as missiles at each other. This week’s ugly fisticuff at the Vidhan Sabha has increased apprehension of a return to violent street fights which were once common in the state.
The possibility of violence is not being ruled out because two months after losing power, the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena is still holding up. Even after losing two-thirds of its MLAs to the Shinde faction, which has joined hands with the BJP, the Thackerays have not, as widely anticipated, collapsed like nine pins. Indeed, they have taken the battle to the Shiv Sainiks, who have seemingly rallied round the Thackerays, judging by the crowd Aaditya Thackeray is drawing.
Besides the allegation that money was a consideration for stabbing the Thackerays in the back, the Shinde faction have not been able to shake off allegations, and indeed the public perception, that their nexus with the builders led to the rebellion against the MVA government.
Unable to break the MVA, all three constituents of which ( NCP, Shiv Sena-Uddhav and the Congress) have resolved to stand together and contest elections unitedly, central agencies were tasked with inquiries against MVA leaders. But even the arrest of Sanjay Raut does not seem to have quite dented the sympathy of the Shiv Sainiks for the Thackerays.
The Shinde Government has now turned its attention to find skeletons in the tenders invited and contracts awarded by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) which has been under the control of the Shiv Sena for the past 25 years. Ironically, barring three years of the MVA—two of which were marked by the pandemic, BMC has been jointly controlled by the Sena and the BJP.
Ahead of the BMC polls, BJP has turned its energy in compiling the number of potholes on the streets. In 2017 the NCP and the Congress had made potholes a poll issue and led a high-octane campaign before the BMC polls. But voters still reposed their faith in the Sena.
Shiv Sena did have the image of being unruly and the party was rarely averse to let loose mobs of rowdy elements whenever it suited the party. It was feared for its muscle power that it could mobilise at short notice. But Uddhav Thackeray has been successful so far in restraining unruly elements.
His own sober handling of pressures and politics earned him the grudging admiration of people who were not Shiv Sena supporters; and despite grave provocations he ensured that his flock behaved.
Not too long ago, Nitesh Rane, son of Union Minister Narayan Rane, mocked Aaditya Thackeray, a cabinet minister, on the stairs of the Vidhan Sabha. He gesticulated and made cat calls at Thackeray Junior. Nitesh Rane did not stop there but he went on to call another cabinet minister, Nawab Malik, a pig.
They would have been deemed as grave provocations by the Sena in its earlier avatar but under Uddhav Thackeray, both the ministers refused to react and maintained their equanimity.
Was it too good to last? Observers are keeping their fingers crossed and hope that this week’s free-for-all at the Vidhan Sabha was an aberration and will not set off a fresh bout of physical violence or street clashes.