As a crisis towered above the Maharashtra landscape today, the Shiv Sena claimed that the developments are a blip that will be resolved before the day is over.
But the trouble cannot be wished away – nor can the fact that the Sena has emerged as the weakest link – at least on the surface of things. It is a senior Sena minister, Eknath Shinde, who has decamped for Surat, taking 21 MLAs with him. That they are sheltering in place in a BJP-ruled state is a dead giveaway of what Mr Shinde is attempting to engineer.
“Attempts to topple the state government using Eknath Shinde will not succeed. Shinde is a loyal party worker who has participated in agitations with us several times. He is Bala Sahab’s soldier,” said the Sena’s Sanjay Raut. He further claimed that communication has been established with Mr Shinde.
The government of Uddhav Thackeray has three components: his own party, that of Sharad Pawar, and the Congress. Last evening, it emerged that in crucial elections to the legislative council (the Upper House), cross-voting by members of the Sena and the Congress lifted the BJP to win five of 10 seats that were at stake. The cross-voting was a repeat of a similar transgression just days ago which enabled the BJP to a Rajya Sabha result that exceeded what its own numbers allowed.
Devendra Fadnavis, at the time, was credited as a “miracle maker” by Sharad Pawar. The compliment for the BJP leader stoked talk that Mr Pawar, who is the chief of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), was not entirely committed to voting “remain” for the Maharashtra government. His reputation as a cross-party negotiator, adept at switching teams as needed, is a constant factor in evaluating the continuity of the Maharashtra government. So is the action initiated by the Centre in the arrests of a former minister and a current minister on charges including money-laundering, a strategy that critics say is the trademark of the central government.
Mr Shinde left for Gujarat late last night. Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP leader who was replaced as Chief Minister by Mr Thackeray, is in Delhi to meet with Home Minister Amit Shah. The Congress has summoned its MLAs after the cross-voting debacle to Delhi.
This is not the usual maintenance required of a government whose members often pull in different directions.
The crisis is both accelerated and distilled- the obvious signs that it is, in fact, very real.