Touchdown Mumbai After 10-Day Power Trip: Sena Rebels Back As Victors But Not Home Yet

Eknath Shinde with his MLAs.

Mumbai:

The man who ran the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra is now in a fight to save his legacy, driven from power, stunted in stature. The one who led the mutiny is now the man in charge. And the mutineers are back home finally, pieces on the chessboard rearranged.

Eknath Shinde’s Sena of rebels today returned to Mumbai from Goa, ten days after some of them started this power trip that had stops in three BJP-ruled states. It started with a core group’s drive across to Surat in Gujarat, who then flew all the way across to Assam, fueling up in Guwahati. By the time the party moved to Goa, the BJP’s hand, hardly invisible anyway, was holding laddoos, ready to pop.

With Uddhav Thackeray unseated and Goa done properly — dancing on the tables and all — they’re back in Mumbai, though still in a hotel, not home before two key days in the assembly.

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Shiv Sena rebels in a meeting with BJP MLAs in Mumbai on Saturday.

Tomorrow begins the special two-day assembly session to elect a Speaker and hold a trust vote. With the BJP solid on numbers, the rebel-led government is likely to have its way. But that’s the politics of it — brazen and successful, still not free from legal tangles.

The post of Speaker is vacant since Nana Patole of the Congress resigned last year to become the party’s state chief. Officiating was Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal from the NCP, one of the three partners in the Shiv Sena-led government that was just unseated. He already sent notices for disqualification — under the anti-defection law — to some of the rebels. That’s now in the Supreme Court. The next hearing is more than a week away.

Who gets the Speaker’s chair may well decide the fate of those notices.

The BJP’s Rahul Narvekar is the candidate of the new ruling alliance. Despite being the single largest party, the BJP has shown tact — call it magnanimity, if you will — to give the rebels the top post, making Devendra Fadnavis settle with Deputy instead.

The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress Maha Vikas Aghadi has fielded Thackeray loyalist Rajan Salvi for the Sunday election.

Monday is the trust vote.

Eknath Shinde went and fetched his 50 MLAs, including 39 Sena rebels, in a chartered flight from Goa Saturday evening. Security was tightened at the airport as those backing Uddhav Thackeray have held protests.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar, a veteran of many seasons and alliances, foresees a long battle over which faction is actually the Shiv Sena. “The court will have final say is what I feel,” he told reporters in Pune.

Being party boss, Uddhav Thackeray has removed Mr Shinde as Shiv Sena leader in the assembly for “anti-party activities”. The Shinde camp will challenge the decision as it claims to be the “real” Sena now.

Both camps have issued diverging whips too — technically, binding directions to MLAs — claiming to have the authority. Going against such a whip can lead to disqualification of the MLA, but that’s another complex court case.

Dividing the party with two-thirds of the MLAs on his side looks easier for Mr Shinde than claiming the whole party, for which he will need the same strength within party units too. The final decision will be the Election Commission’s.

Both sides also claim the legacy of Bal Thackeray, and the Hindutva-Maratha ideology with it.

Those are all fights for another day and beyond. For now, in India’s richest state, simple math might just be all that matters.

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