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Balasaheb backed Modi after 2002, PM has betrayed him now, says Sena MP Sawant

New Delhi: With the political crisis within Maharashtra escalating day by day, Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant has hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who, he said, had been supported by Sena founder Bal Thackeray to stay on as chief minister of Gujarat after the 2002 riots.

Speaking to ThePrint, Sawant — a former Union minister in Modi’s cabinet — said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has betrayed Balasaheb [Bal Thackeray] by plotting the conspiracy to finish the Shiv Sena. The rebels, too, have betrayed Balasaheb.”

According to some Shiv Sainiks still in the camp of party supremo and Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has orchestrated the split within the Shiv Sena that saw senior leader Eknath Shinde rebel against the leadership, together with a majority of the party’s MLAs, last week.

Sawant, who was the Union minister for heavy industries and public enterprises in PM Modi’s cabinet, resigned in 2019 after the Sena-BJP alliance ended.

In a conversation with ThePrint, Sawant spoke of many times the late Bal Thackeray had “stood up” for Modi and the BJP.

“Balasaheb had saved Modi’s future. After the 2002 Gujarat riots, [then PM Atal Bihari] Vajpayee had made up his mind to sack Modi as chief minister, but Balasaheb convinced Vajpayee not to do that. The PM had called Balasaheb and told him, ‘[L.K.] Advani will meet you to discuss a serious issue.’ Balasaheb’s advice to Advani was: ‘Agar Modi gaya, party gayi.’ [if Modi goes, the BJP will lose Gujarat.] Modi has not honoured his friendship with Balasaheb, even though Balasaheb honoured his friendship with Modi till his last breath,” said Sawant.

Supporters of Uddhav Thackeray in several parts of Maharashtra are showing their ire against Shinde by demonstrating on the streets, defacing posters of the rebel leader and vandalising the offices of rebel MLAs.

“We can’t restrict people from expressing their anger,” said Sawant. “These Sainiks worked to get these MLAs elected. How can they forgive them for conspiring and plotting to split the party even while Uddhav Thackeray was ill with Covid and fighting for his life?”

“The real fight will be on the floor of the House,” said Sawant. “They can’t even enter the assembly without merging with a party if they want to protect their membership. In the meantime, we have moved the deputy Speaker for disqualification of these MLAs.”

Shinde’s camp has taken the fight to the Supreme Court against the disqualification notices issued to him and 15 other rebel legislators. The top court granted them a reprieve Monday, giving them until 12 July to respond to the disqualification notices.

Shinde, along with at least 40 rebel MLAs, has been camping in BJP-ruled Assam since Wednesday.

“In 2017, [Vice President of India and Rajya Sabha Chairman] Venkaiah Naidu had expelled two Janata Dal (United) MPs, saying that disqualification of an MP or MLA for anti-party activity and rebellion against the party whip was not just applicable on the floor of the House, but also outside. The rebel Sena MLAs are now defying Balasaheb’s and the party whip’s ideology, so there is a solid reason for their disqualification.”

Also read: Devendra Fadnavis and Eknath Shinde have a common enemy but different priorities

‘Hostage situation’

According to Sawant, “Not all the MLAs in Shinde’s camp are there willingly. They are being held hostage.”

“Initially, they thought this would be over within 48 hours, but their desperation is emerging day by day. They want to return to Maharashtra, but Shinde and the BJP police in the state are not letting them. Two MLAs already escaped and returned. Many others have spoken to us about wanting to come back,” he told ThePrint.

Most of the MLAs, said Sawant, don’t have a knowledge of the law. “They can’t make a separate group of Sena members,” he said. “Despite having over two-thirds of the MLAs, they are saying they haven’t left the Shiv Sena to avoid disqualification. But they either need to merge with the BJP nor any other party, or return to the Sena. Many of them don’t want to merge with the BJP.”

‘Modi has not respected friendship with Balasaheb’

Sawant said that it wasn’t only after the Gujarat riots, but also during the Narmada agitation of 2006 that Bal Thackeray supported Modi.

“At the time, Balasaheb had sent Uddhav Thackeray to stand with Modi,” he said.

These were not isolated incidents either, added Sawant.

“Balasaheb had saved the BJP from losing one of its seniormost leaders in Maharashtra, Gopinath Munde, in 2008. Munde had made up his mind to leave the BJP for the Shiv Sena after feeling isolated in the party. Balasaheb had called Munde and told him not to leave his parent party, and asked senior BJP leader Advani to iron out his differences with Munde.”

Similarly, former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel in 2001 had expressed an interest in defecting from the BJP and joining the Shiv Sena after Modi became Gujarat CM, claimed Sawant. “Then, too, Balasaheb advised Keshubhai Patel to remain with the BJP,” he said. “Balasaheb made such sacrifices for the BJP, but Modi has not respected this friendship.”

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Devendra Fadnavis and Eknath Shinde have a common enemy but different priorities

Source: The Print

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