Driven to the wall with the Eknath Shinde faction gaining from strength to strength, a smarting Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has argued that the rebel group cannot claim to be a separate group even if it has a two-thirds majority and must merge with another party.
The Shinde faction, which is in no hurry to leave Guwahati, is exploring various options and merging with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), an offshoot of the Sena, led by Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray, which may look like a logical extension since the rebels swear by Shiv Sena patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray and Raj is from the family.
Shinde has wasted no time speaking to Raj Thackeray over the phone, though apparently to inquire about his health following hip-replacement surgery. Raj was discharged two days ago.
The Shinde faction claims to have 50 MLAs, 40-plus of them from the Sena and the rest either Independents or smaller parties. With the total strength of the Sena being 55 MLAs, Shinde already has more than the two-third mark of 37.
The Uddhav-led Sena, however, argued on Sunday that the rebels couldn’t be recognised as a separate group even if they have the two-thirds numbers to escape the anti-defection law, and if they didn’t merge with another party, would stand disqualified.
The Shinde camp is weighing three options: the MNS, Prahar Janashakti (whose MLAs have already extended its support) and the BJP. Albeit, on the record, rebel leader Deepak Kesarkar said, “We are not going to merge with any party. We are very much a part of the Sena. Since a majority of the members are on our side, we should be considered the real Shiv Sena.”
Although the BJP would be a natural partner given the Sena’s long association with it and with the rebel leaders having questioned Uddhav’s decision to embrace the Congress and NCP, a section of the Shinde camp argue that joining the BJP would mean losing their Shiv Sena identity. And if they join the BJP, their bargaining strength would be wiped out.
A senior rebel leader said, “We know if we merge our group in the BJP, it would give us a national identity, and the process will be easy. But we don’t want to lose our identity as a regional party.”
The Prahar Janashakti, which is led by Bacchu Kadu, has two MLAs. The disadvantage here, according to certain aggressive Sena leaders, is that the merger would be seen as nothing but political compulsion.
The very essence of the Prahar Janashakti is diametrically opposite to the Sena’s core. The Prahar represents farmers and takes up their issues, besides speaking of the poor and the downtrodden. Shiv Sena is more urban-oriented, and so obviously are the rebels.
So MNS, which has just one MLA and is desperately seeking life support, and it is known in the Maharashtra political circles that Raj Thackeray and Shinde have always shared very cordial relations. And then, just like the rebels, the MNS has also been charging the Uddhav-led Sena for “compromising on Hindutva.” Last, and significant, embracing Raj Thackeray would help Shinde retain a share of the Thackeray political legacy, which he already claims as his own with a majority of MLAs with him.
The Shinde group is having its own sweet time. According to a rebel minister, “Once we overcome legal and legislative hurdles, we will emerge stronger politically. Till then we will wait and watch.”
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