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Outnumbered? Uddhav Thackeray’s summer shock

Mumbai: Eknath Shinde, leading a revolt against Uddhav Thackeray, has claimed the backing of 40 MLAs but this has been challenged by party leader Sanjay Raut, who said at least half of them were “in touch” to come back.

Eknath Shinde, camping in Guwahati with around 41 MLAs, tweeted a letter by a legislator accusing the Sena leadership of being “unapproachable” to party leaders. “Chief Minister’s doors were closed to us for 2.5 years whereas Eknath Shinde was always there for us,” the letter said.

This morning, three Sena MLAs – Deepak Kesakar (MLA from Sawantwadi), Mangesh Kudalkar (Chembur) and Sada Sarvankar (Dadar) – took a flight to Assam where the rebels are camping. “As of yesterday (Eknath) Shinde had 37 Shiv Sena MLAs. Today I along with three others from Shiv Sena and one independent MLA reached here. Two to three are expected to reach in next few hours,” Mr Kesakar told.

“I won’t talk about any camp; I will talk about my party. Our party is strong even to this day. About 20 MLAs are in touch with us. When they come to Mumbai, you will get to know,” Sanjay Raut, who is Shiv Sena’s chief spokesperson, said. “It will soon be revealed, in what circumstances and pressure these MLAs left us.”

The Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP — the alliance partners of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra — have suggested that rebel Eknath Shinde be named as Chief Minister as a way out of the huge political crisis that has engulfed the ruling coalition, sources said.

Eknath Shinde, who is leading the Sena revolt, has claimed that the ruling coalition was beneficial only to alliance partners, while ordinary Shiv Sainiks have suffered the most in the last two-and-a-half years of the coalition’s rule. “It is important to take a decision in the interest of the state,” Mr Shinde, who is camping in Guwahati along with rebel Sena MLAs, tweeted Wednesday.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar today held a party meeting amid political instability in the ruling alliance. The meeting was attended by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, state Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil, ministers Jayant Patil and Jitendra Awhad and party leader Sunil Tatkare.

With the last two-and-a-half years of the coalition’s existence at stake, Mr Thackeray on Wednesday mentioned his father and party founder Balasaheb Thackeray as he made an emotional address to rebels. “If my own people don’t want me as Chief Minister, he should walk up to me and say so… I’m ready to resign… I am Balasaheb’s son, I am not after a post,” Uddhav Thackeray — who tested positive for Covid — said in a Facebook address Wednesday evening.

The BJP says the political crisis in Maharashtra is the Shiv Sena’s internal matter and that the party is not staking claim to form a government in the state. “We haven’t spoken to Eknath Shinde. This is Shiv Sena’s internal matter. BJP has nothing to do with this. We’re not staking claim to form the government,” Union Minister Raosaheb Patil Danve, who met party leader Devendra Fadnavis, told the media.

Uddhav Thackeray moved back to “Matoshree” — his family home — from his official residence “Varsha” on Wednesday night. The journey from his official residence at Malabar Hills to his home in Bandra – which usually takes 15-20 minutes – took almost one hour as Mr Thackeray’s entourage negotiated hundreds of Shiv Sainiks who had gathered at the 15-km stretch braving the Mumbai rain.

Though Eknath Shinde’s rebellion is the first under Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena has seen revolts by prominent figures on four occasions in its 56-year-old history, three of them under the watch of its charismatic founder Bal Thackeray.