Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Now the billion-dollar question Shiv Sena Whose — Uddhav’s or Shindes’? By Amba Charan Vashishth As the curtains were raised for the enactment of a political drama by the main characters Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray and his Shiv Sena (SS) cabinet colleague Eknath Shinde, the former claimed that he had offered to step down as the CM and Shiv Sena chief. Declaring that the party has neither moved away from his father’s ideology nor has it strayed away from Hindutva, in a Facebook message he said, “If my own people don’t want me as Chief Minister, he (Shinde) should walk up to me and say so... I’m ready to resign… I am Balasaheb’s son, I am not after a post.” How ironic and hypocritic! The facts are otherwise. Uddhav tried every trick of the game to grab the CM’s post although the electorate had not given a mandate to him for this purpose. The Shiv Sena (SS) in a pre-election alliance with BJP had collectively waged an electoral war against both the Congress and NCP. The alliance won a clear mandate to form a government, getting161 seats in a house of 288. BJP had contested 164 seats and won 105 with 36% vote share. Shiv Sena contested 126 seats winning 56 with 19% vote share. SS leader Uddhav Thackeray claimed that an agreement had been struck with BJP that if the alliance won, both will work on a 50-50 formula to share the post of CM. Therefore, he wanted himself to be the CM first. This claim was denied by the then BJP President Amit Shah. The SS supremo was so obsessed with the thought of being crowned as a chief minister that he broke the alliance with its oldest ally BJP and formed a post-election alliance Maha Vikas Agadhi (MVA) with Congress and NCP with himself as the chief minister. For the Congress and NCP rejected by the electorate, coming into power at the cost of the CM’s post was a daydream come true. They had everything to gain and nothing to lose. TREMORS IN SHIV SENA The first inkling of some kind of a revolt brewing within the SS ranks was the day BJP won one seat more in the Rajya Sabha than it could on its own strength in the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. It was followed by the revolt of 16 SS MLAs shaking the very foundation of the (MVA) coalition. The trickle continued till the number swelled to 39 under the leadership of SS dissident minister Eknath Shinde. He was also successful in roping in some independent and others with the count of his supporters in Vidhan Sabha mounting to 49-50. The too-vocal SS spokesman Sanjay Raut tried to paint the revolt lightly and claimed that MVA government under SS supremo Udhav was strong and united and it would bounce back at the appropriate time. He continued to assert that many MLAs with Shinde herded in Goa/Assam were in touch with them and will vote for CM Thackeray when they are free to express their loyalty to the Sena on the floor of the house. This over-confidence proved to be its undoing as the trickle of SS MLAs towards Shinde continued till the last moment. Not a single MLA retracted his steps back to the Uddhav camp. Neither was any serious attempt made to smoothen the ruffled feathers of the rebels. The party moved the Deputy Speaker (Speaker’s post then lay vacant) to proceed in terms of anti-defection law against the 16 MLAs who were the first to raise their voice of revolt. The rebels approached the Supreme Court (SC) which restrained the Deputy Speaker from taking any action against them till July 11. (Later, the Speaker was elected and on July 11 the SC extended this bar further.) UDDHAV STUCK TO THE CHAIR CM Thackeray stuck to the chair as long as he could although he knew very well that he had lost a majority in the house. He did resign but not till he was left with no other option. His last hope of the SC staying the Governor’s direction for a confidence vote on June 30 was smashed to the ground when it decided not to interfere in the matter at that moment. On the evening of June 29, the ‘fighter-hero’ in Thackeray surrendered without even feigning to shoot a single arrow at his political foes. Uddhav went down without a fight, unsung with no tears shed, not even crocodile ones. This saved him from the ignominy of a sure defeat in a floor test. When Eknath Shinde revolted, in a tweet Uddhav said, “I became Chief Minister unexpectedly. When this responsibility came to me, if I had run away from it, I would have been called Balasaheb Thackeray's 'nalayak' son”. But the facts are otherwise. It is on record that he ditched the BJP with whom his party had more than 25 years of close association — just for grabbing the office of chief minister for himself (or his first-time MLA son, Aaditya Thackeray. The number of his party MLAs was almost half the strength of the BJP. He seemed to have been smitten by the “Now, or never” syndrome. He hobnobbed with his party’s perennial political enemies Congress and NCP. Their only meeting point with the so-far untouchable SS was to grab power denied by the electorate while Uddhav Thackeray was impatient to be the chief minister at any cost. His claim that the party has not strayed away from his father’s ideology was to hoodwink the Sena men who found it hard to gloat over their party joining hands with Congress and NCP. Thackeray further boasted that if “my own people don’t want me as Chief Minister…..I am ready to resign…I am Balasaheb’s son, I am not after a post.” UDDHAV COMPROMISED As Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray had to compromise on many important issues — like Hindutva, stand on Vir Savarkar, Article 370, and so on — which were dear to both the BJP and the SS. He inducted his son, Aaditya Thackeray, as a minister in his cabinet, obviously to groom him as his successor. Eknath Shinde won his vote of confidence on the floor of the house. He had throughout been insisting that he and those supporting him continue to be the real Shiv Sena as they have not left it. 12 out of the 19 SS MPs wrote to Uddhav that the party should support the NDA candidate for President of India, Mrs. Droupadi Murmu. This made Uddhav acquiesce to extending SS support to her. When Shinde visited Thane, 66 of the 67 SS members of the Corporation expressed their loyalty to him. Shinde has filed a claim with the Election Commission that his faction is the real Shiv Sena. The EC has directed both Shinde and Uddhav to submit their claims supported by documents by August 08. But Uddhav has sought SC direction to withhold the EC steps in this direction. That shows his weakness. Now the ball is in the court of EC and SC. If Shinde succeeds, will Uddhav be able to bounce back any time? That remains a billion-dollar question. *** The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator.