Times of India | 6 days ago | 22-06-2022 | 04:40 am
MUMBAI: Immediately after two poll setbacks, the MVA government plunged into a serious political crisis on Tuesday with a major revolt in the Shiv Sena led by urban development minister Eknath Shinde, a powerful grassroots leader who has long felt sidelined. This is seen as one of the biggest rebellions in the history of the 56-year-old party and the first that chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is facing after the death of his father and party founder Bal Thackeray. If the revolt by Shinde and anywhere between 21 and 35 Sena MLAs-they were holed up in a five star hotel in Surat -succeeds, the government faces the threat of being reduced to a minority. However, MVA leaders claimed there is no threat to the government. Shinde has demanded that Sena exit the MVA and join hands with BJP for the cause of Hindutva. "I am not interested in a cabinet berth. Neither am I interested in taking over the reins of Sena. I am interested in saving the Shiv Sena, I request you to snap ties with Congress and NCP and join hands with BJP," Shinde reportedly told Thackeray. The Sena has 55 MLAs. In order to split the party and avoid the anti-defection law, Shinde will need the support of two-thirds of the party or as many as 37 MLAs. By night, the rebel Sena MLAs were being shifted to Guwahati. There was also widespread speculation that the BJP was planning to shift its 106 MLAs to a safe place in Gujarat to prevent poaching by the MVA parties. Most MLAs with Shinde will return to fold: CMMVA leaders on Tuesday claimed their government was stable. “I spoke to (Eknath) Shinde. Most of the legislators with him are in touch with the Shiv Sena and they will return to the Shiv Sena fold,” CM Thackeray told a group of cabinet members, including Balasaheb Thorat, Ashok Chavan and Chhagan Bhujbal. “After looking at the situation today, I feel some path will emerge,” said NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Shinde had left for a hotel in Surat soon after the MLC polls on Monday, accompanied by more than two dozen party legislators, sources said. The party leadership realised by Tuesday morning that a chunk of its MLAs was uncontactable. The fact that they were holed up in the BJP stronghold of Gujarat was not lost on Sena leaders. “This is a conspiracy of the BJP. Operation Lotus may have succeeded in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but it will not succeed in Maharashtra,” said Sena MP Sanjay Raut. He claimed that Sena MLAs were being held against their will in Surat. “Two of our MLAs, including Nitin Deshmukh, were beaten up,” he said. Meanwhile, the BJP denied it had any hand in the rebellion. “The BJP has not made any proposal of government formation to Shinde, nor has it received any such proposal from him. We will wait and watch,” said BJP state president Chandrakant Patil. By the afternoon, the Sena leadership hit back. Shinde was replaced as group leader of the Sena legislature party. The Sena leadership also called for a show of strength by the party rank and file in different locations in the city, including Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar. The Sena also dispatched two emissaries— Thackeray’s trusted aide Milind Narvekar and Thane legislator Ravindra Phatak—to Surat to talk to Shinde. It is they who facilitated the 10-15 minute dialogue between Shinde and Thackeray. Earlier in the day, Shinde had tweeted, “Balasaheb has taught us Hindutva. We have never and will never betray Balasaheb’s thoughts and Dharamveer Anand Dighe saheb’s teachings for power.” Shinde’s rising resentment is no secret. The leader from Thane, who inherited the mantle of Sena leader Anand Dighe, had emerged as an alternative power centre within the Shiv Sena and had chief ministerial aspirations. However, he saw himself being systematically edged out of decision-making, sources said. Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat told the Congress legislature party meeting that Thackeray had told them there was no threat to the MVA government. “The chief minister told us that MVA has the support of 155 legislators, as such, there is no threat to the government,” Thorat told the CLP meeting. If a senior NCP cabinet member is to be believed, if Shinde can mobilise signatures of 37 Sena legislators, he will form a separate party to avoid the anti-defection law and ask governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari for a special session of the legislature. “We are told his letter to the governor is almost ready, the moment it is signed by 37 legislators, it will be handed over to Raj Bhavan. As per the provisions of the anti-defection law, Shinde will require the support of 37 legislators for the formation of a separate party. Under the anti-defection law, he will require two-thirds of the total strength of Sena,” the NCP leader said. The NCP leader said the MVA will not be surprised if leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis stakes claim for formation of government in the days to come. Fadnavis did not respond to TOI’s messages and calls. Meanwhile, Thorat said it appears a few Sena legislators have left for Gujarat, but most are keen to return to the party fold. “Several attempts were made to destabilise MVA. Both Congress and NCP are with Sena in the present crisis,” Thorat said.
The political crisis in Maharashtra has given rise to the question whether the Shiv Sena rebels can avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law.Law and exceptionUnder the anti-defection law, a member of a legislature can be disqualified if he or she has voluntarily given up membership of their political party; and if he/she votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by their party (or by any person or authority authorised by the party).There is a provision to protect such legislators from disqualification. If two-thirds of the members agree to a merger with another party, they will not be disqualified. Under the 91st Amendment to the Constitution in 2003, the exemption from disqualification if one-third of the members form a separate group (the rule prior to the amendment) was removed.How courts have ruledIn February this year, the High Court of Bombay at Goa held that 10 Congress MLAs and two two MGP MLAs, who had defected to the BJP in 2019, are exempted from disqualification and held that a merger of this group of Congress MLAs is “deemed to be a merger” of the original political party with the BJP (Girish Chodankar v Speaker, Goa Legislative Assembly).In Rajendra Singh Rana v Swami Prasad Maurya (2007), a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court interpreted the term “voluntarily giving up membership of a political party”, and held that “a person may be said to have voluntarily given up membership of an original party even though he or she has not tendered resignation from membership of the party” and that an inference can be drawn from conduct of the member.The two-thirds ruleSome experts believe that even if two-thirds of legislators have broken away, they will be protected from disqualification only if they merge with another party or become a separate group in the legislature.Senior advocate Devdatt Kamat, representing Shiv Sena, said that until the MLAs rebel camp merges with another party, disqualification under the anti-defection law will still apply to them. He said there are court judgements including in the Ravi Naik case (1994) in the Supreme Court which held this view.Senior advocate Shrihari Aney, a former Advocate General of Maharashtra, said there are debatable positions about the anti-defection law. “Various courts have passed verdicts as per specific facts of the case and I am of the view that the Eknath Shinde faction has already crossed the two-thirds mark and thus they cannot be subjected under this law and they are protected from the anti-defection law. They are entitled to be identified as a separate group or a ‘gat’ in the house and to participate in the proceedings.”Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxDisqualification noticesAnother issue that has arisen is whether the disqualification notices served on 16 rebel MLAs can stand the scrutiny of law. Experts said that as per the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on grounds of Defection) Rules and other stipulations, the Deputy Speaker’s decision cannot be upheld.Aney said, “In my opinion, the notices disqualifying some MLAs are void ab initio. The orders are premised on the ground that these MLAs did not attend the official meeting and did not adhere to the whip. But, a whip is limited only to the business of the legislature… Here it was for a meeting called by their president Uddhav Thackeray.”
Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari on Monday hinted at toppling of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in the state in 2024 after doing the same in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.The BJP leader’s controversial statement came in the backdrop of a political turmoil in Maharashtra where the alliance party government is struggling stay afloat following withdrawal of support from a section of MLAs.Addressing party workers in Cooch Behar district on Monday, Adhikari said, “It won’t have to be in 2026 (next state Assembly polls). The ouster will take place in 2024. Just wait a little more. We will oust this government in 2024. This has just begun in Maharashtra. Next it will take place in Jharkhand and Rajasthan. After Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, we will reach West Bengal.”His remarks did not go down well with the ruling dispensation in West Bengal with the Trinamool Congress slamming the BJP for its attempt to topple elected government in Opposition-ruled states.“This shows the BJP’s mindset when it comes to respecting democratic norms in the country. They want to grab power by any means and that’s what they have planned for all opposition-ruled states. But Suvendu Adhikari is living in a fool’s paradise. In 2024, the BJP will go out of power,” said TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh.
With the Supreme Court extending the deadline for them to file a response to disqualification notices, the Shiv Sena’s rebel group led by Eknath Shinde is learnt to be strategising to approach the Governor, informing him of their decision to withdraw support from the MVA, and thereby, prompting a floor test.Highly placed sources said, “The Shinde faction is likely to approach Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at Raj Bhawan, informing its decision to distance itself from Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.”Claiming to have 50 plus MLAs in its fold, Shinde camp’s decision to step out of MVA would raise a question on the numbers with Uddhav Thackeray led MVA government, which could find it difficult to prove its majority on the floor of the house if the rebel MLAs were to stick together, the sources added.The development has also sparked worries in the Sena with a senior leader pointing out: “While the Apex court has given two weeks’ time to the rebels to respond to disqualification notices served by deputy speaker Narhari Zirwal, our plea for disallowing floor test till July 11 was not considered.”Shinde camp’s confidence stems from its belief that it holds two-third majority in the Shiv Sena. At present, it is claiming support of 39 MLAs out of total 55 MLAs of the Sena. Besides, there are over 10 MLAs from smaller parties/independents with them. Their total support base has risen to over 50, the Shinde camp has claimed.The total strength of the state legislative assembly is 288 members, which has gone down to 287 with the death of Sena MLA Ramesh Latke last month. The halfway mark to form the government is 144.With Congress’s 44, NCP’s 53 and Sena’s 16 legislators, the aggregate strength of the allies stands at 111 — 33 short of the halfway mark. The number of independents/smaller parties adds up to 29 members, of which around 11 are with Shinde camp. Sources say that even if all the remaining 19 were to align with MVA, the figure still won’t cross 130.“Minus Shinde faction, MVA finds itself confronting the battle for survival in Maharashtra,” the source said.Expressing his happiness after the SC order, Shinde said, “It is a victory for Balasaheb’s Hindutva. We have always maintained that we have not walked out of Sena. Our fight is for the self respect of Sena.”Sources in the Shinde faction said, “A lot of deliberations are underway on the next course of action. We are still fighting for the rights to lead the Sena. With majority members with us, Shinde’s leadership in the party’s legislative assembly cannot be divested. We always wanted Sena to walk away from the Congress and the NCP.”Shinde’s son Shrikant alleged that the disqualification notice to his father and 15 MLAs were sent by the deputy speaker under pressure.Meanwhile, the BJP, which convened its core committee meeting at the residence of opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis on Monday, has decided to adopt “wait and watch” strategy. State BJP president Chandrakant Patil said, “What is happening is an internal matter of Shiv Sena. We are also closely monitoring the developments.”Another senior leader, Sudhir Mungantiwar, said, “Shinde group is still not considering itself separate from Shiv Sena. At the same time, they have the support of a majority of members. So, we need to see how the situation evolves.”
MUMBAI: A week after the revolt began for control of Shiv Sena, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray on Monday stripped all nine ministers from rebel leader Eknath Shinde's camp of their portfolios. They will remain ministers but without portfolios. By now, of the 14 ministers in the Thackeray-led government, only four including the chief minister, are from Shiv Sena. The others are industries minister Subhash Desai, transport minister Anil Parab and environment minister Aaditya Thackeray. They have all got additional portfolios. Monday's Supreme Court verdict protecting the rebel Sena MLAs from disqualification proceedings till July 12 led to speculation about whether a floor test is imminent. "The government is in a minority. The chief minister should leave the MVA government and join BJP. Then there will be no need for a floor test," rebel MLA Deepak Kesarkar said. Sena's Aaditya Thackeray countered, "The rebels should come here, look into our eyes and tell us what we did wrong. That is our floor test." Congress member Balasaheb Thorat said, "No one has asked for a floor test. The CM has said 20 MLAs who are in Guwahati will back the government in the event of a trust vote." BJP's Sudhir Mungantiwar said the party will "wait and watch" and would consider such a proposal when it came. The cabinet reshuffle was prompted by concerns about work being held up. Also, by the onset of monsoon and the possibility of flooding or accidents, a press statement from Thackeray's office said. Under rule 6 of the rules of business, the chief minister has powers to re-allocate portfolio of a cabinet minister if he is not attending office since he is unwell or is not able to discharge duties. This is done to ensure works of public interest as well as routine work are not affected. Read AlsoEight ways to lose your political partyWhen politicians lose an election, they stand a chance of bouncing back in the next one. But what happens when they lose their party? It was initially decided to sack all nine rebel members, a bureaucrat said. But the Sena leadership dropped the proposal and decided to strip them of their portfolios. Meanwhile, rebel MLA Shamburaje Desai, who lost his junior minister portfolio, said, "We had no rights as junior ministers. The position was only in name. We were not able to get funds for our constituencies." Read AlsoDid Uddhav hear what BJP said about Shinde last summer?The Shiv Sena was casual about numerous signs of discontent brewing in the party. Was it over-confidence or power lulling a party into laziness?Security of Guwahati hotel housing rebel Sena MLAs tightened furtherSecurity inside and outside Radisson Blu hotel in Guwahati, where rebel Shiv Sena MLAs are camping, was upgraded to an impenetrable level on Monday, a day after the Centre provided Y+ category security cover of armed CRPF personnel to at least 15 of them, reports Prabin Kalita. Apart from a few top officers of Assam Police, a group of advocates were the only civilians allowed entry inside the hotel on Monday. In addition, crew members of several airlines that have agreements with the hotel were also allowed inside. Read AlsoWho owns brand Bal Thackeray: Saininks or the Thackerays?The rebel Shiv Sainiks led by Eknath Shinde have decided to call themselves Shiv Sena Balasaheb. This has opened a new front in their battle with Uddhav Thackeray – a brand warThe president of Shiv Sena unit in Manipur, M Tombi Singh, who had come to meet the rebel legislators, was stopped at the gates and then arrested after he was spotted talking to media outside the hotel gates. “I’ve come to talk to Eknath Shinde and tell him not to divide the party. Sena should remain as one party and we want the political crisis to end soon,” he said.
The Supreme Court’s order on Monday, extending the time for Eknath Shinde and 15 other rebel MLAs in the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly to file written response to the Deputy Speaker’s disqualification notice till July 12, was deemed as a victory by the rebel camp. On the other hand, the Shiv Sena also put up a brave front stating that the interim order had only postponed the inevitable disqualification of the rebel MLAs.“We have won this major battle as the court has given us a major relief and we have time to contemplate on how to take the next step, whether we have to come to Mumbai for floor test or not. We have given all the authority of decision to Shinde saheb who will decide on the further course of action,” rebel MLA Bharat Gogawale, the chief whip of the Shinde camp, said.When asked if there is any plan on joining hands with the BJP, Gogawale, said, “We have 51 MLAs and we have to go with someone to form an alliance. We cannot go with the Congress or the NCP and there is only one option, which is the BJP.”Deepak Kesarkar, the spokesperson of the Shinde camp, said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena will form the government in the state, adding that their leader will be Uddhav Thackeray and that the Congress and the NCP should walk out of the government “instead of asking Thackeray saheb to resign”.Arvind Sawant, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament from South Mumbai, who has been spearheading the battle for disqualification for the MVA, however, called the interim order as “postponement of the inevitable disqualification”.“They have only got time…that doesn’t mean it is a setback to MVA (Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi). The process has just been postponed. Now we are in a wait-and-watch position and we will decide on our further course of action depending upon what they (the rebel camp) are doing,” Sawant said.