INDIA. MUMBAI: The Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly holds power to recognise the rebel group led by Shiv Sena MLA Eknath Shinde, even though the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) Government has been reduced to a minority as a result of the BJP’s “Operation Lotus.”
On Thursday, the leader of the breakaway group Eknath Shinde submitted a letter to the Legislative Assembly Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal, pledging the support of 37 Shiv Sena MLAs. The copies of the letter were sent to Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and the Maharashtra State Legislature Secretary Rajendra Bhagwat. Shinde, in a tweet, also claimed the support of 9 Independent MLAs taking the tally of his group up to 46. Given over two-thirds majority (Shiv Sena’s existing official strength-55), the breakaway group will not attract the provisions of the Anti-Defection Law.
Shinde has also claimed that his group is “Real Shiv Sena”. It is not clear what strategy Zirwal would adopt. However, the MVA is planning to demand a floor test in the Assembly. The breakaway group, backed by BJP, is planning to move the court to claim the recognition of the group as the “Shiv Sena Legislature Party”.
Shinde, who is stationed at Guwahati, also disclosed that he had “installed” Shiv Sena Legislative Party whip Bharat Ghogawale (Mahad, Raigad) to that position (SLP). Additionally, he disagreed with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s earlier choice of MLA Ajay Choudhari to lead the SLP.
In another development on Thursday, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said that if rebels return to Mumbai within 24 hours, the party may think about snapping ties with the MVA, making the MVA and Congress jittery since both the parties have stood firmly behind the Shiv Sena in this political crisis.
The splinter faction camped in Guwahati passed a resolution on Wednesday designating Shinde as the SLP’s head. “There is immense discontent among the cadre of the party, viz. Shiv Sena, for establishing the government with NCP and Congress who are ideologically opposed to our party,” the group stated in the resolution. Shinde added that the Shiv Sena has suffered as the NCP and Congress have prospered over the past 2.5 years. He stated, “Our group is for Hindutva Forever.”
Despite moving to his family’s home at Matoshri in Bandra in North-West Mumbai after leaving his official mansion “Varsha” in South Mumbai and claiming to be ill with Covid-19, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray did not resign.
On Wednesday evening, Thackeray stated during a FaceBook live that he had been getting calls from several MLAs claiming they had been transported against their will to Guwahati. In exchange for people who have revolted coming forward and telling him they don’t trust him, and as a result, I should quit, I’m willing to step down from both the chief minister and party chief positions. I’ll be pleased to quit, even if they call me from Guwahati. He continued, I shall be overjoyed if the Shiv Sena nominates the next chief minister.
The MLA Nitin Deshmukh (Akola) escaped and came back, alleging a plot on the part of the Bharatiya Janat Party and Gujarat authorities to kidnap and hurt him. This served as evidence for Thackeray’s claims that the MLAs were transported to Guwahati forcibly. According to Deshmukh, most of the MLAs who Shinde took wished to return to Maharashtra and were taken first to Surat (Gujrat) and then to Guwahati. On Tuesday, Kailas Patil, an MLA from Aurangabad, also managed to flee the rebel camp.
On Thursday, though, a few more Shiv Sena MLAs arrived in Guwahati. Bhavna Gawli, a Shiv Sena member from Buldhana, also urged Thackeray to follow Shinde’s lead and cut relations with the NCP and Congress to work with the BJP.
The BJP’s strength will now be significantly greater than the necessary strength of 145 in the 288-member Maharashtra legislative assembly if Shinde joins the party (or extends support as a separate group) with 46 MLAs.
The BJP has the right to request a special session of the state legislative assembly and introduce a motion of no confidence in the MVA administration. You could even ask the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and impose the President’s rule until new elections can be held. The prospects of the BJP in Opposition introducing a no-confidence motion, though, are higher. The state legislature’s Monsoon session is set to begin on July 18.
The split-off faction will need to win the Speaker’s approval. In that circumstance, it will be necessary to evaluate both the Opposition and the firmness of the ruling on the House floor. However, the true test will be whether Deputy Assembly Speaker Narhari Zirwal recognises the breakaway faction (in the absence of the Assembly Speaker). A key factor will be whether the Shinde group will be known as the “Shiv Sena Legislature Party” or by another name. Typically, the breakaway group is originally recognised as a separate entity.
Despite defections, the Shiv Sena will have 18 MLAs in the Assembly, provided more MLAs do not join the breakaway group. Given this, the decision of Zirwal will be very significant.
Many might remember that in May 1999, after leaving the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign background, most Congress MLAs joined the National Congress Party (NCP). On May 20, 1999, the AICC removed the top NCP officials Sharad Pawar, Tariaq Anwar, and the late P A Sangma. In the Maharashtra legislature at the time, the organisation received recognised as the NCP legislative party.
The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order 1968 directs the Election Commission of India to handle disputes about the party name and symbol when the legislature is not in session. Additionally, the Registration of Political Parties Order, 2009, governs handling issues about the parties’ claims (Re-revised 2022). However, state legislatures typically handle disagreements over party recognition.
Now Eknath Shinde seems to stake claim not only on the SLP but also on the entire Shiv Sena. However, given the massive protests across the state against the rebellion, he is unlikely to successfully lay claim over the Shiv Sena.