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‘Subah ka bhula…’ — Original Shiv Sena rebel Chhagan Bhujbal has a message for Eknath Shinde

New Delhi: “Eknath Shinde should sit with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and sort out grievances,” is the advice of the party’s original rebel, Chhagan Bhujbal, who quit the Sena in 1991 over “non-appreciation” by the leadership.

In an interview with ThePrint, Bhujbal, now a senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and minister in Maharashtra’s Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, also credited Thackeray with “leading the Shiv Sena in a dignified manner”.

Bhujbal’s words of praise come as the beleaguered Thackeray attempts to extinguish the rebellion in his party by Shinde and, reportedly, at least 40 of Sena’s 55 MLAs. The rebels  are camping in Assam, questioning the party chief’s leadership and alleging that he was working under pressure from MVA alliance partners NCP and Congress.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar is holding meetings with CM Thackeray, and Bhujbal further discussed the strategy of the MVA coalition. “Uddhav still has the majority on paper. It is just a few people who are sitting at different places. He has been trying to convince the rebels to return to his fold. If there is any change in numbers, it will be tested in the assembly. As of now, Shinde is still part of the Shiv Sena,” he said.

“My advice to Shinde is, this is an internal fight of the Shiv Sena. Sit together and sort out grievances. Neither has he left the Shiv Sena, nor has the Shiv Sena expelled him, so end the war of words,” Bhujbal added.

He further defended Uddhav Thackeray, saying he has “carried the legacy of (his father) Balasaheb Thackeray smoothly and led from the front”.

It was Bal Thackeray who was leading the Sena when Bhujbal rebelled in 1991, breaking away with 18 MLAs and declaring support for the Congress, which was then in power in Maharashtra. But 12 of the rebel MLAs returned to Thackeray’s fold the same day.

Bhujwal told ThePrint: “After the death of Balasaheb (in 2012), Uddhav took charge of the Sena and he led the party to get good numbers in the assembly and ensured the Sena came to power in Maharashtra. Today, the chief minister is from the Sena, so I don’t think that the crisis in the party is due to his leadership. He is leading in a very dignified manner.”

Also Read: ‘Sena is everything for Marathi manoos’ — Mumbai Sainiks say they’ll stand by Thackerays

Changing tack

Uddhav Thackeray, over the past few days since the rebellion broke, has switched strategies from offering to quit the MVA alliance, to moving to disqualify the rebel MLAs, to now talking about a floor test to prove his majority.

Pawar said as much Thursday evening. “A floor test will decide who has the majority. The rebel MLAs of the Shiv Sena will have to come to Mumbai… because if the minority is the Maha Vikas Aghadi, then they will have to come to the Vidhan Sabha… and who will support them [the rebels] once they come to the assembly?” he asked.

The Congress and NCP have made public statements of support backing the Sena chief. Bhujbal, questioned about whether the NCP will continue to be in alliance with the Sena till a floor test, asserted: “We are with the MVA till the last moment. We are united, there is no confusion on that. The majority will be tested only on the floor of the assembly. (Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi ji, Pawar saheb and Uddhav Thackeray are speaking in one voice. We are behind Uddhav like a rock.”

When asked whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was behind the crisis in Maharashtra, he said: “Anybody can disturb your house but will not succeed unless your house is itself not in order.”

On the question of the NCP joining the BJP in a fluid situation, Bhujbal replied, “We will never join the BJP”.

Banking on deputy Speaker

The MVA partners are banking on Maharashtra Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal, who is from the NCP, to take a call in their favour when it comes to legalities.

Sources in the Sena said the party is hopeful that once the deputy Speaker initiates the legal process to determine which camp the majority of MLAs belong to, and considers Uddhav’s disqualification petition against 16 rebels MLAs, he will give time to the MLAs to appear in person to present their case, and the Sena will get a chance to win some of them back.

If Zirwal disqualifies the 16 MLAs, the strength of the assembly will be lower. It may be easier for the MVA to prove its majority with the mark at 135 seats instead of 143 as at present. There are 288 seats in total, but with with one MLA deceased and two jailed, the effective strength is currently 285.

Zirwal Friday cleared the appointment of Ajay Chaudhary to replace Shinde as leader of the Sena in the Assembly.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also Read: ‘Aloof, distant, distrustful’ — why Uddhav Thackeray couldn’t hold Sena MLAs together

Source: The Print

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