By Venkatesh Raghavan*
Mumbai: Uddhav Thackeray’s resignation as Chief Minister yesterday not just pre-empted the need for a floor test in the Maharashtra House, but also precipitated a surprise when the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party Legislative Party in the State, Devendra Fadnavis today announced that the rebel Sena leader, Eknath Shinde will take oath as the next Chief Minister of the state by late evening at 7.30 p.m. today. Shinde later took oath as the Chief Minister at the Raj Bhawan. Fadnavis took oath as the Deputy Chief Minister hours after he renounced any position in the Maharashtra government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Shinde and tweeted: “I would like to congratulate Shri @mieknathshinde Ji on taking oath as Maharashtra CM. A grassroots-level leader, he brings with him rich political, legislative and administrative experience. I am confident that he will work towards taking Maharashtra to greater heights.”
Earlier in the afternoon, there was talk about Fadnavis regaining his Chief Minister’s chair. However, despite the BJP having more numbers in the State Assembly, Fadnavis announced that Shinde will be the incumbent chief minister of Maharashtra. At that point in time, Fadnavis also stated that he will not take any part in the cabinet. However, after coercion from Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP Chief JP Nadda, Fadnavis agreed to be designated as the deputy chief minister in the Legislative Assembly.
The strange twist of events witnessed also made the rebels speak up, stating “We had walked out on ideological issues and not for the purpose of power or position. None of us has anything against the Thackeray family and we do still respect Uddhav Thackeray. However, his decision to side with NCP and Congress did not go down well with us.” It was reported that a majority of the legislative ranks in the Party reacted to being sidelined on their stand over Uddhav’s choice of alliance partners, which subsequently led to Uddhav’s floor strength within the Sena a mere 13 in numbers. With today’s development, it has been an incredible journey for Shinde (born on February 9, 1964), who had even been an auto-rickshaw driver in Thane, struggling to make ends meet. He climbed the political ladder once he came in contact with Sena leader Anand Dighe in Thane.
Fadnavis addressing the press informed that after Shinde’s swearing-in today, the cabinet expansion that will accommodate Shiv Sena and BJP legislators will take place later. The spokesperson from the rebel legislative camp also said that having a clear majority in terms of numbers, there can be no dispute about who represents the real Sena.
During the crisis that witnessed the rebel team being taken first to Surat, flown later to Guwahati, and finally landing in Goa, the BJP senior leaders including Fadnavis were reportedly in the huddle mode over the course of action. The rebel leader Shinde joined the team of senior BJP leaders after he was flown in from Guwahati to Vadodara for discussion over the strength of the rebels and power-sharing modalities.
On the face of it, there is evidence of a well-orchestrated coup from within the ranks of the Sena that was aptly facilitated by the saffron brigade. Though officially the BJP claimed that it had no role to play in this matter, the manner in which the rebels were protected and housed in luxury hotels across three BJP-ruled states in the country suggested otherwise.
Uddhav Thackeray’s legislative Party, having been reduced to 13 in numbers, will have to pick threads over their identity in the newly formed Assembly arrangement.
Photo: Eknath Shinde (bearded) with Devendra Fadnavis. Souce Twitter.