Maharashtra’s ruling alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the opposing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won five seats each in the legislative council elections held on Monday. 11 candidates contested for the seats, and 285 eligible MLAs cast their votes. The assembly’s strength was reduced following the death of a Shiv Sena leader, while two Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs who are currently in jail were not allowed to vote.
The MVA comprises the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP, and is led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. The alliance had nominated six candidates, reportedly, two from each party. On the other hand, the BJP also had enough numbers in the assembly to nominate four candidates, while Prasad Lad became the fifth candidate after securing support from MLAs outside of his party. The BJP has 106 MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly, the Shiv Sena has 55, the Congress has 44, and 52 are from the NCP. Small parties and independents account for 25 MLAs in the House.
The polling process began at 9 am. According to officials, eight candidates, four from the BJP, two from Shiv Sena, and two from the NCP, secured the minimum of 26 votes each in the first round of voting. Four candidates from the MVA, Sachin Ahir and Amshya Padvi of the Shiv Sena, and Eknath Khadse and Ramraje Nimbalkar of the NCP, won. Meanwhile, BJP candidates Shrikant Bharti, Pravin Darekar, Uma Khapre and Ram Shinde also won, and Prasad Lad managed to win the fifth seat following the cross-voting. The Congress won one seat following Bhai Jagtap’s win, securing enough votes to win in the second round.
The counting of the votes was set to begin at 5 pm, on Monday, but was delayed for nearly two hours following Congress’s objections on the votes casted by BJP MLAs Mukta Tilak and Laxman Jagtap. The two ailing MLAs who had to cast their vote with the help of assistants were objected to by the Congress, however, the Election Commission dismissed the objections.
On Tuesday, following the MLC polls, senior Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra cabinet minister Eknath Shinde, reportedly, fled to Surat, Gujarat, with nearly 20 other MLAs, who have been ‘out of touch’ since. Subsequently, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray called for an urgent meeting of party leaders to discuss the crisis.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole while criticising the BJP for “misuse of its power”, also indicated that he has called a meeting of all Maharashtra Congress leaders today. This comes a day after the BJP claimed cross-voting from Shiv Sena and Congress MLAs in the MLC elections. Patole also accused the BJP of attempting to overthrow the MVA government.
After the conclusion of the MLC elections, Pravin Darekar said, “We’re very happy; Maharashtra has shown faith in BJP. Cross-voting 100 percent happened among members of Shiv Sena and Congress. We wouldn’t have received so many votes otherwise.” This speculation led CM Thackeray to call for an urgent meeting today, prior to which, Shinde along with at least 20 lawmakers, reportedly, left the state.
The number of MLAs, including Shinde, can bridge the gap that the BJP needs to oust the MVA government from power. Following the BJP’s win in the MLC elections, the NCP also accused the party of “working secret pacts”, while former Maharashtra CM and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis said that the results indicate unrest in the ruling coalition.
Considering the total strength of the assembly has been brought down to 285 members, 143 seats would mark a majority. Additionally, with implied support garnered by the BJP standing at over 130 votes that were needed to get all the five candidates elected, if they manage to get Shinde and his followers on their side, the party would be able to topple the current government in Maharashtra. As the Shiv Sena’s current strength in the assembly stands at 55 MLAs, if the rebels do want to merge with the BJP, they would require 37 MLAs, two-thirds of the strength of the party.
Amid the potential crisis, Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut came forward to clarify the series of events. “Efforts are being made to topple the state government but the BJP has to remember that Maharashtra is very different from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh. I know Eknath Shinde Ji, he is a true Shiv Sainik. He will return without any conditions,” said Raut. According to party sources, Raut has also “cancelled his visit to Delhi” for the opposition party meeting that was to be held to finalise their candidate for the upcoming presidential election.
Raut acknowledged that some of the MLAs are not in Mumbai, and have not been reachable since last night. “But contact has been established with a few MLAs who went out of the city due to a misunderstanding. Eknath Shinde is also out of the city and he has also been contacted,” he added.
Furthermore, Raut has alleged that Gujarat BJP chief CR Patil made arrangements for them, and some of the lawmakers went to the BJP-led state without knowing where they were being taken. “Gujarat leaders have kept them in Surat. We spoke to several of them who want to come back but aren’t being allowed to. It’s a siege,” said the Shiv Sena leader. However, Raut did not share any information about the number of MLAs currently in Gujarat.
He also asserted, “They will certainly return as all of them are dedicated to Shiv Sena. I trust that everything will be fine.” NCP chief Sharad Pawar has assured that there is no threat to the MVA coalition and government in Maharashtra. “The Maharashtra government is running smoothly,” he said. According to sources, the NCP leader is currently in Delhi attending the opposition meeting for the presidential polls, and will be meeting CM Thackeray later today.
The BJP, in turn, has blamed the ruling MVA, and particularly Raut, for pushing the alliance into this crisis. “We’re minutely observing the turn of events. It’s a little premature to say that it’ll lead to any changes. It’s a handle-with-care situation. We have to see it very keenly. We are observing all situations,” said Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil. He added, “Problems have cropped up in their party only due to instigating statements of Sanjay Raut. People won’t tolerate… Eknath Shinde’s rebellion is an example,” said Patil, asking Sanjay Raut to “speak politely”.
The BJP leader has also indicated that the party will definitely consider forming the government with the group if a proposal comes up, indicating that it is “premature to comment” on, and that it is the Sena’s internal matter on which it does not wish to speak. Patil added, “Shinde may have some well-wishers in Gujarat and he may have taken their help. I do not know if our Gujarat state chief is one such well-wisher.”
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has also dismissed Eknath Shinde from the post of the party group leader. According to party sources, he has been replaced with Ajay Chaudhary, the Sena’s MLA from Sewri, as a legislative party leader. Subsequently, Shinde took to Twitter to say that “Balasaheb has taught us Hindutva”, and that based on his teachings, he would never cheat for power. An hour after the tweet, he removed Shiv Sena from his Twitter bio.