The battle for Shiv Sena’s control has moved from the streets to the drawing room, where the legal teams of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Sena rebel MLA leader Eknath Shinde are working to make a claim as the rightful owner of Maharashtra’s ruling party.
In the Sena’s first tangible move against Mr Shinde, who is camping in Guwahati and claims to have the support of nearly 40 Sena MLAs and 10 others, Maharashtra’s Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal has accepted Ajay Choudhari as the Sena’s Legislature Party leader by replacing Mr Shinde.
The Deputy Speaker rejected a suggestion by the Mr Shinde camp to appoint Bharat Gogawala as the Sena’s whip.
Pressing on his attack, Mr Thackeray has asked the Deputy Speaker to disqualify Mr Shinde and 15 other rebel MLAs, who are camping in a five-star hotel in BJP-ruled Assam.
After the Deputy Speaker issued notice to the rebel MLAs on the disqualification plea, two independents rose to defend the Mr Shinde camp by directly going for the Deputy Speaker – they moved a no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker Mr Zirwal in a bid to stop the MLAs from being disqualified.
Mr Shinde, supported by the rebel MLAs, has said he would go to the Election Commission and claim the Shiv Sena as belonging to them as he has the numbers.
The Sena’s two allies in Maharashtra – Nationalist Congress Party, or NCP, and the Congress – have said they will stick with Mr Thackeray come what may. Sena leaders have said their party is strongly focused on cadre. While MLAs come and go, the cadre will remain with Mr Thackeray, they said.
“We’re Shiv Sainik and will fight and will win. What they (rebel MLAs) are doing is not legal and politically not feasible. It’s not happening for the first time with Shiv Sena. Earlier also it had happened but all in vain. This time also it will not succeed,” Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said.
The Sena filed to disqualify the rebel MLAs in a last-ditch attempt to save the ruling alliance. Team Thackeray is unlikely to seek more rebel MLAs for disqualification since that would bring the halfway mark down, which would benefit the BJP. Sena’s play appears to be to go for disqualifying a few rebels to discourage the rest from facing elections, hence forcing them to return from Assam, where the BJP’s north-east election strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma is the Chief Minister.