Shiv Sainiks come out on streets in favour of Uddhav Thackeray even as rebels run in to legal obstacles

Deputy Speaker of the Assembly -- Maharashtra Assembly does not have a Speaker since the Governor has been dragging his feet on a new Speaker -- who belongs to the NCP might upset the rebels' plans

Members of Shiv Sena hold out a procession in Uddhav Thackeray's support
Members of Shiv Sena hold out a procession in Uddhav Thackeray's support
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Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

In a day of fast-moving developments, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray made an emotional appeal to all district presidents of the Shiv Sena; and rebel leader Eknath Shinde first left his hotel in Guwahati for Mumbai before reportedly returning. During the day Assam Congress chief Bhupen Kumar Borah called upon Shinde to exit Assam or face the wrath of the people. Assam Congressmen demonstrating outside the hotel were taken away by the police and commandos were deployed at the hotel where the rebel MLAs are being hosted.

Friday also saw Shiv Sainiks come out in support of Uddhav Thackeray in a show of strength. The Sena has called a meeting of its national executive on Saturday afternoon.

It was clear from Uddhav's video-conference with district presidents that he has the support of all his district chiefs and he decided to go full blast on the heart strings by firing a challenge to Shinde and his supporters. On allegations that he was never available for communication and interaction, he said that fore more than two years after he took over as CM, the nation was under lockdown and when the lockdown was partially lifted he had to go to hospital for a surgery on his spine.

“I was admitted to hospital when my son (Aaditya) was travelling in Europe and that is when these people got together to hatch a conspiracy against me,” he said, exploiting the victim card and sympathy factor to the fullest. There was also a glimpse of the typical Thackeray refusal to yield. “I have given up the CM's residence but not my resolve to fight,” he said.

That it is working was evident from the fact that barring a few banners in support of Shinde in Thane, his home turf, there has been nothing that indicates that Shiv Sainiks are splitting from the party and going along with the rebels.

Amid reports that Shinde has rebelled because of pressure from the Enforcement Directorate on a leading builder with whom he has a partnership, Uddhav said, “I gave him (Shinde) the creamy Urban Development department which every chief minister keeps with himself. I gave his son a ticket to the Lok Sabha. Yet he wants more.”

The use of the word "creamy" is a great indictment, amid intelligence reports that one particular builder close to Shinde has dispatched Rs. 25 crore to Guwahati to take care of the hotel bills where food alone is costing them Rs 8 lakh a day. On the other hand, all that Shinde has to say against Uddhav is that he is not practising the Hindutva of Bal Thackeray. No charges of corruption or mis-governance.

But not practising that kind of Hindutva has earned Uddhav Thackeray much support from not just liberal Hindus but also Muslims. The minority community had voted in large numbers for the Shiv Sena after the Mumbai riots in the hope that their support to the party would keep the peace.

They were right – the Sena government that came in had increased the Floor Space Index for mosques so that namaazis would not have to spill out on the streets. This, after provoking them with 'maha-aartis' from Hanuman temples every Friday as they offered namaaz.

But after the 2002 riots in Gujarat, Uddhav found that not one Muslim wished to vote his party so long as it was in alliance with the BJP. The situation is reverting to the same now – pleased at how he handled the Hanuman Chalisa provocation, they will vote for the Sena wherever necessary but not if it associates with the BJP. That is another minus on Shinde‘s account.

Ground reports also suggest that Shiv Sainiks are also restrained because Uddhav has not yet thrown in the towel. They are waiting to see if he declares defeat, then they are likely to take to the streets. But they will not endanger his chief ministership at the current moment, and the MVA is now going strictly by the Constitution.

A new leader of the legislature party has been appointed and the disqualification of about 12 MLAs has been recommended as the first step. There is a precedent to such disqualification in the case of Sharad Yadav that was held up by the courts when he had attended an opposition meeting against his party’s wishes.

That would result in denying the BJP the numbers while tying Shinde up in the courts leaving enough time to Uddhav Thackeray to woo back the rebels who are now beginning to realise their precarious situation – another MLA tried to escape from Guwahati and was reportedly beaten up for daring to do so even as Uddhav's emissaries to Assam are said to be working their persuasive skills on the legislators.

Shinde was told by Assam Congress chief Borah that his presence in Assam was diverting the attention of the chief minister and administration from providing succour to the flood victims and if the legislators didn't leave soon, they would be thrown out physically. However, Shinde's return to Mumbai is said to be the disqualification of the 12 legislators – he will meet Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal to pitch his own case.

Maharashtra has not had a Speaker since the resignation of Nana Patole who was appointed as state Congress chief and the Governor has been blocking the election of a new Speaker in a bid to topple the government. Zirwal, however, belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party, which is rooting for Uddhav Thackeray, so Shinde has his task cut out for himself.

Meanwhile, Sanjay Raut has said there will be only two outcomes to this battle -- it will either be fought with numbers inside the Assembly or on the streets. And the streets today are clearly with Uddhav Thackeray.

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