Eknath Shinde flies MLAs from Surat to Guwahati, says 46 backing him
Mumbai: In a day of dramatic developments, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday offered to resign provided the rebel MLAs of his party tell him face to face that they don’t want him to continue as the CM. He has also offered to quit as the president of the Shiv Sena.
Mr Thackeray said while the alliance partners — Congress and NCP — still wanted him to continue as CM, he was hurt that his own people did not have faith in him any longer. “I will give my resignation letter if they come before me and ask for it. If any MLA wants me to not continue as the CM, I am ready to take all my belongings from Varsha Bungalow (CM’s official residence) to “Matoshri” (Thacker-ay family home). A blow by my own people is what hurts the most,” he said in an emotional appeal made via Facebook Live.
It was Mr Thackeray’s first public statement after senior party leader Eknath Shinde rebelled against him along with more than 40 MLAs. Mr Shinde has expressed his opposition to continuing in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government with the NCP and the Congress, and sought the formation of a government by joining hands with the BJP on the basis of Hindutva.
“I have faced many challenges. What is the worst that will happen? We will fight again. As long as Balasaheb Shiv Sainiks are with me, I can face any challenges,” Mr Thackeray said.
Hours after offering to quit as chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray left the CM’s official bungalow “Varsha” in South Mumbai to shift to his private residence “Matoshree” in Bandra. Luggage was seen being moved out of “Varsha” late in the evening. Uddhav was accompanied by wife Rashmi and sons Aaditya, a Cabinet minister, and Tejas while leaving “Varsha”.
The Shiv Sen chief also said that he never wanted the CM’s post, but accepted it because NCP supremo Sharad Pawar insisted on that. “When all three parties (Sena, Congress, NCP) came together in 2019, Sharad Pawar told me that I had to take the responsibility of the CM’s post. I didn’t have prior experience. But I took the responsibility. Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi helped me a lot, they kept their faith in me,” he said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar met Mr Thackeray after the latter’s address at his residence. According to sources, Mr Pawar has asked the CM to offer his post to Mr Shinde to save the MVA government.
Amid the political turmoil, Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Mr Thackeray have tested positive for Covid. Mr Koshyari has been hospitalised. Mr Thackeray’s Rapid Antigen Test suggested that he was Covid positive. Later, however, his RT-PCR test result was negative, after which he met Mr Pawar and the other NCP leaders.
Mr Thackeray held a Cabinet meeting at 1 pm via video conferencing. The Congress ministers, however, said that no political discussion was held at the Cabinet meeting.
In the middle of these developments, the game of one-upmanship went on between the Thackeray and Shinde camps. Shiv Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu issued a whip asking all party MLAs to attend a legislature party meeting in Mumbai at 5 pm. The whip also threatened the MLAs with disciplinary action if they failed to attend the meeting.
However, Mr Shinde hit back, saying the orders issued by Mr Prabhu are “legally invalid” as MLA Bharat Gogawale was being appointed as party chief whip.
Mr Shinde, who flew from Gujarat to Assam -- both BJP-ruled states – earlier on Tuesday, claimed that he had the support of 40 MLAs out of the Shiv Sena’s 55 legislators as well as six Independents.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena MLA Nitin Deshmukh, who was in Surat with Mr Shinde, has alleged that he was “kidnapped”. After returning to his home in Nagpur, he extended his support to Mr Thackeray. He also said that his signature on the letter submitted by Mr Shinde was fake.
“In Gujarat, 100-150 policemen took me to a hospital and pretended as if I have suffered an attack. They wanted to operate on me, harm me under that pretext. By God’s grace, I’m all right. I am with Uddhav Thackeray,” Mr Deshmukh said.
Earlier in the day, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut caused a stir by hinting at the early dissolution of the Maharashtra Assembly. “The political developments in Maharashtra are heading towards the dismissal of the Vidhan Sabha,” Mr Raut tweeted in Marathi, indicating that the chief minister might be ready to dissolve the Assembly and give up power rather than compromise.
“Power is fleeting. Zyaada se zyaada kya hoga, satta jayegi. Satta waapas aayegi. Magar satta se upar party ki pratishtha hai (What’s the worst that can happen? We’ll lose power. Power comes back. But the party’s pride is paramount)”, he said.
However, the Congress and NCP leaders claimed that they had received no proposal to dissolve the Assembly.