Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s loyalist and Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Thursday challenged the party’s rebel camp led by Eknath Shinde to a floor test in the assembly, while also telling them that their chance to return to the Sena is not lost. On their demand that Shiv Sena should break up with the NCP and Congress to form a government with the BJP, the Rajya Sabha member said, “You (the rebels) should merge with the BJP. Shiv Sena remains our party.”
The Shiv Sena-led regime is on the verge of a collapse as the rebel camp needs just one more MLA for a split without facing action under the anti-defection law.
Speaking to NDTV, Mr Raut responded combatively to the question if Uddhav Thackeray will remain the chief minister: “Let all the MLAs come to the floor of the House. We will see then. These MLAs who have left… they will find it difficult to return and move around in Maharashtra.”
On whether talks were still on with the rebels, Mr Raut said, “They are all our friends… We don’t know what their compulsions are. The party and the state are with Uddhav Thackeray. Just because some MLAs have left does not mean the party is gone.”
“In the times of Balasaheb Thackeray, too, a lot of people left the party,” he said, referring to Uddhav Thackeray’s father, party founder Bal Thackeray. “We rebuilt the party and brought it to power then too. And now this is an open challenge from Uddhav ji and me, that we will rebuild the party again; and we will again come to power.”
He also responded to the Shinde camp’s allegations that the chief minister’s house ‘Varsha’ remained out of bounds for party legislators: “These are just excuses. For a year there were Covid restrictions; and then Chief Minister Thackeray was unwell for six months.”
Mr Raut said Eknath Shinde was part of every decision in the party and the government. “In the party and the state cabinet, he was given important posts so that he would keep the leaders and workers together. Uddhav-ji or he alone could not do everything; it was a collective responsibility. Instead of doing his duty, he created a division in the party.”
He said he would reiterate Mr Thackeray’s stance that “whoever wants to leave, can leave, but go and win the election again”. “This land belongs to Shiv Sena and Balasaheb… We will rise again like the phoenix and soar. We have seen several struggles in the last 56 years. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Maybe we will lose the government, lose power, lose ministerial posts — what else can happen in politics? You will misuse the ED (Enforcement Directorate) and CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) against us, put us in jail… what more? Will you shoot us? We have seen everything and we fear nothing,” Mr Raut said.