BJP waits as Shinde’s next move could end the Thackeray era

BJP is ready to stake claim to form the government in Maharashtra as soon as Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde announces the number of MLAs in his camp

File image of Eknath Shinde. PTI

Maharashtra could witness yet another change of guard in the Chief Minister’s Office, the third since November 2019, on Thursday with sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saying it is ready to stake claim to form the government as soon as Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde announces how many MLAs have joined his rebellion against Uddhav Thackeray.

Sources said Shinde, who is camping at a luxury hotel in Guwahati claiming the support of more than 40 MLAs, is preparing the paper work to stake claim to the Shiv Sena’s name and election symbol.

Chief Minister Thackeray has already vacated his official residence and moved back to family home Matoshree. Despite his emotional appeal to the rebel camp and an offer to quit the CM’s post, Shinde remains insistent that the Sena end its alliance with the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra.

A senior BJP leader said the party is waiting for Shinde to announce his latest strength and could formally challenge Uddhav Thackeray for power as early as Thursday. The leader, who is privy to the party’s discussions and strategy on the latest political crisis in Maharashtra, said a new government could take oath next week.

Sources in the BJP claim Uddhav is left with the support of only 15 MLAs in the 288-member Assembly, and even some of them could leave his side soon. On paper, the Shiv Sena, which heads the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi alliance, has 55 MLAs, followed by allies NCP at 53 and Congress at 44. But with Shinde claiming the support of more than 40 MLAs, it would be an uphill climb for the Thackeray camp to prove majority.

If the Shinde camp officially files for the use of Shiv Sena’s name and election symbol, the Election Commission will decide the dispute depending on the support for the rebel faction within the party’s top committees and decision-making bodies, and its legislative wing.

In case the organisational support is not clear enough to arrive at a decision, the poll body could decide based on who the majority of Sena MPs and MLAs side with, a scenario that may benefit Shinde. The Thackerays would in that case not only lose power in the Assembly, but also in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation which heads to polls in September-October.

The banner of revolt raised by Shinde could cost the Thackerays power not only in the Assembly but also in the Mumbai civic body which the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has dominated for more than three decades since 1989.

Sources said that after MLAs, Shiv Sena corporators could make a beeline swearing allegiance to Shinde, splitting the party in the BMC as well, a prospect that gives the BJP a strong shot at the Mayor’s post in October elections.

The Thackerays are already finding it difficult to close ranks in Parliament where 12 of its 17 MPs are said to be pro-Shinde. The rebel leader’s next move today could mark the beginning of the end of the Thackeray era in Maharashtra politics.

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