MUMBAI: The tectonic plates moved in Maharashtra politics on Monday. Narayan Rane, Congress leader, a former chief minister and bete noir to the Shiv Sena, made it clear he is poised to defect to the BJP on Thursday, September 21. And Shiv Sena MLAs were summoned to a closed-door meeting with Uddhav Thackaray and asked to entreat him to pull the plug on the BJP government of Devendra Fadnavis.
It was a meeting at Thackeray’s Matoshree residence into which Shiv Sena MPs, MLAs and ministers were not allowed to carry their mobile phones. The MLAs reported to Boss their unhappiness with the Fadnavis administration – meaning that they can’t get their work done – and authorized Thackeray to decide when to withdraw support to the government.
After the meeting, Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut, an Rajya Sabha MP, said, "The decisive meeting is over. We have come very close to a decision. Uddhavji shall announce the decision whenever he deems it right."
He didn’t disclose what exactly happened at the meeting. But the leaks came later. Sources said the meeting was stormy with MLAs railing at the Shiv Sena ministers in the Fadnavis cabinet and the latter yelling back.
Bharat Gogawale, MLA from Raigad, questioned the stand of the ministers during the recent local elections after which he had a heated argument with environment minister Ramdas Kadam. Similarly Shiv Sena MP from Pimpri-Chinchwad Shrirang Barnet levelled several allegations against spokesperson Dr Neelam Gorhe.
According to sources, though a majority of Shiv Sena MLAs said they would agree with the party's decision – should it actually come to pass – to quit the government, a group of about 25 were not so brave. "We don't have enough funds to contest elections now," some MLAs from western Maharashtra said.
The Shiv Sena has 63 MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly of 288. The BJP has 122. The support of Independents plus miscellaneous parties minus the Shiv Sena would boost it to 138. The magic figure is 145. While the math would indicate that Fadnavis will fall if Thackeray pulls the plug now, it’s not so simple.
In the presidential election back in July, the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind got 208 MLA votes in Maharashtra. Deducting the Shiv Sena’s 63 would give it the magic number of 145. The extra votes were secured by way of cross-voting, perhaps by the Narayan Rane faction of the Congress and some MLAs from the NCP.
So the BJP’s ability to mobilize votes from beyond party benches would not be lost on Thackeray.
Rane sets defection date: Sept 21
And here now is Narayan Rane, all set to traipse over to the BJP. Once a Shiv Sena chief minister and estranged subsequently, there’s no love lost between him and Thackeray. In his current lodgings, he is peeved with the Maharashtra Congress leadership for dissolving the Sindhudurga district committee.
He staged a show of strength at Kudal along with his two sons, one of whom is a Congress MLA, and promised to teach the state satraps a lesson soon.
Speaking of himself in the third person as Indian politicians tend to do when attempting a threat display, he said, "They haven't understood Rane and so they dissolved the Sudhudurga DCC. Rane attacks with twice as much power when he is hurt." His unnamed foe is state Congress president Ashok Chavan.
Rane said Rane shall reveal his final decision on Thursday.
The BJP did not react to the developments in the Shiv Sena. The conventional wisdom in Maharashtra is that if Narayan Rane joins the BJP, it would end the Sena’s leverage on the Fadnavis regime and Thackeray might quit rather than be a hanger-on.
One minister admitted this possibility to New Indian Express but saw the bright side of it. “If Rane joins and Shiv Sena leaves, that would be advantageous to us. It will free up 12 cabinet berths and we could give a good one to Rane," he said.