Maha crisis: Shiv Sena rebels rule out merger with another party
Mumbai, Jun 25: Dissident Shiv Sena legislator Deepak Kesarkar on Saturday said the rebel group enjoys a two-thirds majority in the legislature party and will prove its strength in the House but will not merge with any other political party. In a virtual press conference from Guwahati, where rebel MLAs led by senior Sena minister Eknath Shinde are camping, Kesarkar said they have not left the Sena, but named their group as "Shiv Sena (Balasaheb)" and has appointed Shinde as their leader.
Just 16 or 17 people cannot replace the group leader of 55 MLAs and the rebel Sena faction will challenge in the court the order of Maharashtra Assembly's Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal to replace Shinde as Shiv Sena group leader, he said. "The MLAs had told party president Uddhav Thackeray that we should stay with the party with whom we had contested election...When so many people voice the same opinion, there must be some substance in it," he said, referring to the Shinde group's initial demand that the Sena should revive its alliance with the BJP and sever ties with Congress and NCP.
To a question about whether the Shinde group will withdraw the support to the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra, Kesarkar said, "Why should we withdraw the support? We are the Shiv Sena. We have not hijacked the party, the NCP and Congress have hijacked it." He also said the Shinde group will prove its majority in the Assembly but "we will not merge with any other political party." "We have decided to name our group Shiv Sena (Balasaheb) because we believe in his (Bal Thackeray's) ideology," he added. Asked about the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction's objection to the use of party founder Bal Thackeray's name by other groups, Kesarkar said, "We will consider it." To a question about when the rebel MLAs would return to Mumbai, he said they will come back "at an appropriate time."
"At present, there is pressure, we don't feel that it is safe to return," Kesarkar said, referring to incidents of attacks on offices and residences of rebel MLAs in Maharashtra. The rebel faction had nothing against Uddhav Thackeray, he added. He said the rebel MLAs decided to come together as the Shiv Sena was facing a survival crisis. "We want to save the party. We are not even seeking his (Uddhav Thackeray's) resignation," he added. Commenting on Maharashtra Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal rejecting a letter (demanding recognition to the rebel group and naming Shinde as the Shiv Sena legislative party leader) signed by the rebel camp, Kesarkar said, "How can he reject our letter but entertain a letter received much later seeking our disqualification. If required we will also approach the governor or go to the court to seek justice."
The Shiv Sena has sent the names of 16 MLAs to the deputy speaker, including the leader of the rebel camp Eknath Shinde, seeking their disqualification. In a dig at chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, Kesarkar said that if a government can function via video conference in the last so many months, why cannot Zirwal hold an online meeting with us. We can show him our strength in this (video) call, he said.
"It is true that we have a major issue with the Nationalist Congress Party and its insulting treatment of us. Many MLAs who are with us here have been raising this concern with the party leadership for the last many months, but it was never addressed," he claimed. Kesarkar said the constituencies represented by the NCP before the 2019 polls were given more importance. "Except for the post of the chief minister, the Sena did not get any good portfolios which didn't help us at all," he said. What is the point in (to be part of) such a political arrangement where the party (Shiv Sena) would be finished by the other two allies, Kesarkar asked.
"We were not treated with respect by NCP ministers. We were always sidelined by them. In one instance, a good scheme was cancelled by deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. When I raised a complaint against it, he told me that his decision can only be negated by the chief minister. However, CM never cancelled it," he claimed. Kesarkar reiterated that the rebel group was not breaking away from the Shiv Sena. "We are just asking him (Uddhav) to join hands with the BJP. I have informed chief minister Uddhav Thackeray many times that we should work with the BJP. PM Narendra Modi has a special affection for the Sena," he said.
Queried on whether Sena MLAs rebelled to avoid potential raids by the Enforcement Directorate, Kesarkar said, "There are only a handful of people who could be raided by the ED. The others are simple and come from a humble background and have not received any love from their leadership in the last couple of years." Kesarkar said the rebels are footing their own expenses at the hotel where they are staying in Guwahati. "The BJP has nothing to do with it," he added. Earlier in the day, the NCP had sought to know who was paying the bills of hotels in Guwahati and Surat and also asked the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to find out the source of "black money" involved.
Kesarkar said Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut is a fiery speaker. "His speeches cause fire," he said in an apparent reference to protests by Sena cadres in parts of Maharashtra against the rebel MLAs. However, we will not comment on Raut as he is not a member of the Maharashtra legislature. PTI