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Maharashtra: Congress and NCP stand by Uddhav Thackeray

Commitment to coalition irrespective of government survival as chief minister battles to protect party
Rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde interacts with MLAs supporting him, at a hotel in Guwahati on Thursday.
Rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde interacts with MLAs supporting him, at a hotel in Guwahati on Thursday.
PTI picture

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 24.06.22, 01:24 AM

The Congress and the NCP on Thursday rallied behind Shiv Sena chief minister Uddhav Thackeray after he indicated that he would not yield to pressure from the rebel MLAs to return to the BJP’s embrace.

Both the Congress and the NCP issued statements reaffirming their resolve to sustain the coalition and face the crisis together. They also made it clear that the coalition would continue whether or not the state government survived.

This is a strategy to close the option of the realignment the rebels are seeking. The rebels may now be forced to take the next step — probably an announcement of an understanding with the BJP.

Sources said Uddhav was now more interested in protecting his party and had begun consulting top lawyers on the strategy to adopt if the rebels laid claim to the Shiv Sena’s name and election symbol.

So far, the rebels have successfully sown confusion among the cadre by reaffirming their faith in the ideology of Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray and rejecting the charge of betraying the party. Uddhav is trying to call their bluff by rejecting the possibility of a realignment with the BJP.

Earlier in the day, Sena leader Sanjay Raut had created some confusion by saying the party would walk out of the collation within 24 hours if the rebels returned to Mumbai and discussed the options with Uddhav.

Congress and NCP leaders said this was only tactical posturing to bring the rebels back to Mumbai, which would dramatically alter the Sena leadership’s bargaining power.

They said Uddhav had made it absolutely clear that he was interested in long-term politics and not in stooping to protect his chair.

The Congress fielded Mallikarjun Kharge to announce that the coalition was intact. “We will stay together and strengthen the coalition. Whatever help Thackeray needs will be offered,” Kharge said.

“The BJP is trying its best to pull down the government. The BJP doesn’t want any Opposition government in the country. The choice of Surat and Guwahati should not leave any doubt in anybody’s mind that it is entirely a BJP operation.”

The rebel MLAs, led by Eknath Shinde, had first taken refuge in the Gujarat city of Surat and then moved to Guwahati in Assam. Both Gujarat and Assam are BJP-ruled states.

Sharad Pawar too held a meeting of NCP leaders and asked Ajit Pawar to convey the message that the party was firmly behind Uddhav.

“Our understanding was for five years and the arrangement is not going to change,” Ajit said.

He described Uddhav as a “popular chief minister” and refused to give credence to speculation about the Sena teaming up with the BJP to install a new government.

Asked whether the Congress or the NCP had any doubts about Uddhav’s intentions, a minister denied it.

“Not at all. Uddhav is not that kind of a scheming person. He doesn’t lie. He is a candid person who hates conspiracies,” the minister told The Telegraph from Mumbai.

“Had he wanted to return to the BJP, he would have called us and said everything upfront. He is still fighting to save this government. If he doesn’t succeed, he will rather try to defeat the BJP in the next election.”

In Guwahati, Shinde demonstrated the support of 42 MLAs, including himself, and declared that Uddhav had been left with barely 13 MLAs. Such a breakup would leave the ruling allies with a combined tally of 110 seats in a 288-strong Assembly and place the keys for the formation of a new coalition in Shinde’s hands.

However, Shinde’s flock will be vulnerable if it reaches Mumbai without BJP protection. Sena strategists are hoping the rebels will not have the guts to oppose Uddhav to his face and that they may be acting under pressure in Guwahati.

Shinde will therefore be under compulsion to unveil an alliance with the BJP before stepping out of Guwahati.

Although the Sena is prepared for a protracted legal wrangle to save the government, its main concern now is to protect the party and save the alliance with the Congress and the NCP to fight future battles.

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