Maharashtra Political Thriller: A Shiv Sena without the Thackerays?

We’ve been liberally treated with political thrillers like that is happening in Maharashtra at the moment across the country since the last few years, thanks to the aggressive power-politics of the national ruling dispensation (BJP) which fittingly matches its aggressive Hindutva nationalism. However, the present game has been inevitable since the year 2019 when Shiv Sena (SS) parted ways with the BJP after jointly fighting and winning the assembly elections, and after a landslide victory for the alliance in 2014, on the CM post issue, and forming a coalition government Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (Maharashtra Development Front or MVA) with the Congress and the nationalist Congress (NCP). For the last two and half years the state BJP has been a grumpy lot, alleging a great betrayal by the SS and wanting desperately to avenge it; in fact, they’d tried at least three times to derail the coalition so far. This last one, even though the party has continued to be in denial about any involvement, has proved to be the biggest coup within the Sena in history, threatening to finally dislodge the Uddhav Thackeray led MVA government.


The most definitive parameter of such political thrillers, the hotel-resort politics, is very much there in this too: first the dissident MLAs (Member of Legislative Assembly) led by Eknath Shinde, one of the senior-most and loyalist leaders of the Shiv Sena, were lodged in a five-star resort in Surat, a city in the BJP-ruled state of Gujarat, and then shifted unexpectedly at the dead of the same night to a five-star venue in Guwahati, of course, the capital of another BJP-ruled state of Assam with one of the most prominently aggressive national BJP leaders, Himanta Biswa Sarma, being the Chief Minister there. Dissident leader Eknath Shinde reportedly moved in there with around 30 supporting Sena MLAs which has increased to 42 (total of 46 including independent MLAs), as claimed by him on the morning of 23rd June, 2022, for which he’d provided video proof too.


As per the anti-defection law Shinde needs to ensure the support of at least 37 MLAs which is two-thirds of the 55 SS MLAs in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly after the 2019 assembly elections. With apparently more than the required number the dissidents can now avoid disqualification and vote for the BJP in case of a no-confidence motion or in terms of showing the numbers to the Governor of Maharashtra to stake claim for the formation of a new Government with the BJP, the traditional partner of the SS on the basic Hindutva issue till 2019. Buoyed by this support Shinde has been claiming to be the leader of the ‘actual’ Shiv Sena, wanting to retain its identity at any cost. So, now we’re faced with a situation of a Shiv Sena without the Thackeray family whereas it was the legendary Balasaheb Thackeray, father of the present CM Uddhav Thackeray, who founded this party on 19th June, 1966 in the interests of protecting the rights of the local Marathi population of the state.


Emotions ran high last evening, the 22nd of June 2022, when Uddhav Thackeray, a gentleman-politician as always, made an address in social media appealing to all his MLAs to tell him face-to-face if they wanted him to resign that he said he was ready to do anytime, instead of conspiring behind his back. He added that his becoming the Chief Minister was only accidental which is actually true as the coalition partners wouldn’t have agreed to a non-Thackeray for the post. He also threw a kind of bait to Shinde, asking if they could ensure a new Chief Minister from his party only in the new scenario. In a further confirmation of his intentions Uddhav, found to be COVID positive in the morning, along with his family vacated his official CM residence Varsha late evening the same day, and moved to his family home Matoshree, around 9 km away. And we’d witnessed a spontaneous burst of love and support throughout his short journey home with thousands of Shiv Sainiks (Sena workers) and supporters accosting the traditional Sena leader and his bright promising minister-son Aaditya Thackeray on the streets of Mumbai. In my experience of over three decades this could only be only the second occasion of a spontaneous mass outburst of loyalty for a Thackeray, than during the days when Balasaheb lay seriously ill at Matoshree and eventually passed away in 2012.


Perhaps, somewhat nonplused by those emotional proceedings Eknath Shinde shied away from his intended press conference in Guwahati last evening, and instead shot off an ‘emotional’ letter to Uddhav this morning alleging a saga of sheer neglect to the SS loyalists by his coalition government that consistently preferred those of Congress and NCP only. However, despite the charged emotional drama MLAs kept on defecting from the Uddhav group and flying over to Guwahati, at times accompanied by BJP leaders.


The main spokesperson of the SS, Sanjay Raut has been saying repeatedly that the CM was not going to resign and that once the ‘imprisoned’ flock of MLAs returns to Mumbai it’d be an entirely different scenario as he has claimed to have been in touch with at least twenty dissident MLAs. He has also said that the traditional supporters of the SS have reiterated their binding faith in the Thackerays, have called the Sena dissidents as ‘traitors’ and have warned that they’d defeat them in the next assembly elections. All these claims and counter-claims about the numbers make this abundantly clear that this political thriller is far from over at the moment. Coincidentally, the 80-year-old Governor of Maharashtra has been in a hospital after being proved COVID positive.


Eknath Shinde has made it clear that his fight is to save the SS from this ‘unnatural’ coalition and to reunite the party with its traditional Hindutva partner BJP. Therefore, basically, Shinde wants to be the leader of the ‘actual’ or the breakaway faction of the Shiv Sena, and does not want to merge with the BJP. If he’d like to be considered for the post of the new CM, the BJP is extremely unlikely to agree to that with the dislodged former CM Devendra Fadnavis waiting patiently for over two and half years. Further, the Election Commission has to come into the scenario later as to which faction is going to have the right to continue using the old party symbol. Whatever be the future proceedings of this number-game, now apparently not at all in favor of Uddhav Thackeray, a Shiv Sena without the Thackeray family is not a concept that’d have acceptance from the larger Marathi people of the state.