Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray tries emotional appeal to dissuade rebels

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in an emotional speech said that he was willing to resign if ‘rebel’ Shiv Sena MLAs returned to Mumbai and asked him to quit. In a televised address to the state on Wednesday, Thackeray tried to reach out to ‘rebel’ MLAs, after his party, earlier in the day, threatened the ‘rebels’ with disqualification. The group led by Eknath Shinde reacted to the threat by claiming that the Sena chief whip who asked them to attend a meeting of the legislature party was ‘replaced.’

Thackeray said that if the Sena MLAs doubted his leadership skills, he would quit as party chief too, but reiterated that they should come over to Mumbai and tell him so upfront. The CM later shifted from his official residence Varsha in south Mumbai to family home Matoshree in suburban Bandra. Sena insiders indicated that the move was meant to galvanise Sainiks stunned by the last two days’ developments.

Thackeray’s emotional appeal came after Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu called a legislature party meeting at 5 pm and in his letter warned the rebel MLAs, “if you are not present in the meeting, it would be assumed that you on your own will want to quit the party… and you would be disqualified as per provisions of the anti-defection law in the Indian Constitution.” The meeting, however, was put off.

The Shinde camp reacted to the letter by claiming Prabhu was ‘no longer chief whip’ and that the new chief whip was Bharat Gogawale. It sent a letter to deputy speaker Narhari Zirwal with the purported signatures of 34 Sena MLAs, appointing Gogawale as chief whip. The letter said that Eknath Shinde continued to remain SLP leader. The anti-defection law, however, stipulates that more than two-thirds legislators are needed for a split to be recognised as legal and to avoid disqualification. The Sena has 55 MLAs in the assembly and Shinde’s group would require the support of at least 37 MLAs to meet the requirement.

Out of the MLAs who ‘supported’ Eknath Shinde, Nitin Deshmukh returned from Surat to claim that he had not signed the letter and he was loyal to Thackeray. Two of the MLAs who signed belonged to Prahaar Janshakti Party and two others were Independents. The actual tally of Shiv Sena MLAs with Shinde is hence believed to be 29, 8 short of the minimum required for a split to be recognized. Shinde, however, claimed support of 46 MLAs.

Constitutional expert Girish Bapat said that Shinde can be removed as SLP leader if he does not have two-thirds MLAs. “Uddhav Thackeray as party president can decide who heads the legislature party whip. For Eknath Shinde to challenge and claim that the move to remove him as the SLP head, he needs to show that he has the support of two-thirds, in this case, 37 MLAs. Or else, Ajay Chaudhary remains the legislature party chief,” Bapat said.

“A lot is being made of the numbers. I say that even if one of the MLAs comes over and tells me to quit, I would immediately resign as chief minister. I have kept my resignation letter ready. You can submit it to the governor today itself,” Thackeray said in his address. The CM who tested positive for Covid-19 said that he would be ‘happy’ to give up the CM post if another Sena MLA was chosen CM. “Today I am shocked and pained because it is not the Congress and NCP that have told me that they don’t want me as CM. It is my own people.” Referring to Shinde’s claim that the Sena was ‘not following Hindutva,’ now, he said that Hindutva was the Sena’s ‘breath’. Thackeray said the complaint of his MLAs that he was not accessible was a recent occurrence after his surgery. He said that he was inexperienced when he took over the state administration but his work was appreciated in surveys.

Shinde responded to Thackeray’s speech by tweeting, “the 2.5 years of alliance with MVA has only helped the allies. To keep the party and Shiv Sainiks alive it is important to save the party and Shiv Sainiks to get out of this unnatural alliance. It is important to take a decision in favour of Maharashtra.”

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