The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition is going through a crisis, which is evident by the emergency meeting called by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar saying there are attempts to topple the state government.
Pawar is widely believed to be the architect of the MVA coalition, which came to power in 2019 when Shiv Sena, Congress, and NCP formed the government, outwitting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had emerged as the single-largest party in the state assembly elections.
The current crisis is rooted in reports of Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde camping in BJP-ruled Gujarat with a group of MLAs. This becomes interesting as these reports follow setback for MVA in the Maharashtra Legislative Council polls in which the Sena-led coalition lost one out of the six seats it contested.
While the BJP had enough numbers in the assembly to get four candidates elected, its fifth candidate Prasad Lad too won after securing support from MLAs outside his party's pool of legislators. The Indian Express reported at least three MLAs each of Shiv Sena and Congress, and further more from its smaller alliance partners, cross-voted in the elections. The Express reported that the BJP got 27 votes from outside its MLAs.
This was the second round of embarassment for MVA this month as BJP handed it a defeat in Rajya Sabha elections in the state as well. The BJP secured three Rajya Sabha seats despite lacking numbers for the third seat.
How numbers stand in Maharashtra?
In the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, Shiv Sena has 55 MLAS, NCP has 53, Congress has 44, totalling at 152. The Opposition BJP has 106 MLAs.
Besides these two camps, Bahujan Vikas Agahdi has three MLAs, and Samajwadi Party, AIMIM and Prahar Janshakti Party have two MLAs each. MNS, CPI-M, PWP, Swabhimani Paksha, Rashtriya Samaj Party, Jansurajya Shakti Party and Krantikari Shetkari Paksha have one MLA each. There are also 13 independent MLAs.
NDTV reported that 21 MLAs are camping with Shinde in Gujarat, which means that MVA stands to lose majority if they defect, which would bring down their numbers from 152 to 130. The majority-mark is 145.
What Maharashtra leaders are saying
In a cryptic tweet, Shinde said he remains a "Balasaheb's staunch Shiv Sainik". Balasaheb is a reference to Sena founder Bal Thackeray, Uddhav's father.
"We are Balasaheb's staunch Shiv Sainiks. Balasaheb has taught us Hindutva. We have never and will never cheat for power regarding Balasaheb's thoughts and Dharmaveer Anand Dighe Saheb's teachings," said Shinde in a tweet in Marathi.
On the question of the fall of the government, Pawar said there is "no question of going with BJP".
Clarifying he has not spoken to Shinde, he further said, "It is internal matter of Shiv Sena. They will inform us after assessing situation."
Sena's senior leader Sanjay Raut asserted that Shiv Sena is a party of loyalists and attempts by the BJP, like in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, to topple the MVA government would not succeed. He also said Shinde was a trusted Shiv Sainik and that the 'missing' MLAs will be back after the party is able to reach out the them.
Raut also claimed Shinde was pressured to go against Sena. He further alleged that at least two MLAs accompanying Shinde in Surat were beaten up by the police and goons under the "Operational Kamal" and some others were "kidnapped".
He said, "Two of the MLAs [with Shinde], including Nitin Deshmukh, were beaten up last night. Deshmukh tried to run away but he was beaten up by the police and goondas under 'Operational Kamal' and suffered a heart attack. Some of the MLAs have told us that they were misled and taken to Gujarat.
"At least four to five calls have been received by some MLAs of Sena. The caller MLAs said that they were being misled and kidnapped. They said that they were called for dinner in Thane [on Monday] and then taken away. Their family members have lodged police complaints about their husbands and fathers going missing."
Raut also hinted at pressure from Central agencies and said he was aware of the "compulsions" of Shinde that might have prompted him to rebel. He added he too had received notices from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) but never buckled under pressure.
He claimed that 14-15 Sena MLAs are accompanying Shinde, while at least 30 MLAs attended the meeting with CM Thackeray in Mumbai on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil ruled out any link of his party to the ongoing political developments but also said the BJP would "definitely consider" a proposal if it comes from Shinde to form a government.
Eknath Shinde's high political ambitions
While the situation shot to headlines on Tuesday, the crisis was simmering for a week, as per reports.
A Maharashtra Congress leader told PTI, "An upheaval was going on in the Shiv Sena for nearly a week."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, this leader said that Shinde wants to become Maharashtra's deputy chief minister.
On Shinde's ambitions, Pawar said, "Eknath Shinde never told us about his CM ambitions. I am sure Uddhav Thackeray will handle situation."
Uddhav has gone into a huddle with top Sena leaders over the developments. The leaders in the meeting include MLAs Sunil Kadam, Dada Bhuse, Neelam Gorhe, MPs Arvind Sawant and Vinayak Raut, MLC Manisha Kayande and others.
Shinde rose in the Shiv Sena hierarchy from ranks. He had served as the party corporator for several terms before getting elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2004.
He is also known for his accessibility and has a strong grip on the party organisation in Thane and Palghar districts, part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, which send 24 MLAs to the Assembly.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena deputed its members Milind Narvekar and Ravindra Phatak to hold talks with Shinde in Surat and try to mollify him.
Significance of Sharad Pawar's comments
While the situation is evolving fast, the gravity might be understood that NCP chief Pawar, believed to be the architect of MVA coalition, spoke on it, outrightly calling the ongoing developments an attempt to topple the government.
While both Sena and Pawar have denied that he is neither MVA's remote-controller nor headmaster, there is consensus that he not only formed the coalition but the alliance also hinges on him, according to ThePrint.
Political commentator Prakash Bal told ThePrint, “The [Maharashtra] government is functioning only because of Pawar. He is the driving force behind this government. He wants to show this as a successful experiment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The longer this government lasts, the more the BJP squirms.”
In Maharashtra, the term "remote control" dates back to 1990s when Sena founder Bal Thackeray wielded considerable influence over the Sena-BJP government during 1995-99.
Congress deputes Kamal Nath as observer
Meanwhile, the MVA-partner Congress has deputed party veteran Kamal Nath as the Maharashtra observer for the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole on Tuesday said there was no threat to MVA government. He accused the BJP of misusing power.
He said, "The BJP is misusing power it has at the Centre, which is now not hidden from anyone. A money-power circle is going on. They are pursuing the path of lies, but truth will win. This phase shall pass."
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan did not comment on the Eknath Shinde episode but said the council polls reversal suffered by the MVA sent a wrong message.
He said, "I will not speak on the developments in the Shiv Sena [regarding Shinde]. The Congress is meeting to discuss the Council poll results in which a Dalit face of the party lost. This has sent a very wrong message. We have to discuss what went wrong, how many MLAs cross-voted and where did the votes go."
Shiv Sena sacks Eknath Shinde from assembly post
The Shiv Sena on Tuesday removed Shinde as the party's group leader in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
Sena leader Sanjay Raut told reporters that Shinde has been replaced with Ajay Choudhury.
Choudhary, who represents the Sewri segment in Mumbai, told PTI that 25 MLAs have supported his appointment as the group leader of the Shiv Sena.
Raut justified the removal of Shinde as the group leader of the Sena in the Legislative Assembly, saying disciplinary action was required. Earlier on Tuesday, Raut had said that communication has been established with Shinde "who is not in Mumbai".
(With PTI inputs)