After the Maharashtra assembly, Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena on Tuesday suffered a fresh jolt with 12 of its 19 Lok Sabha members shifting allegiance to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and declaring two-term member Rahul Shewale as their leader in the Lower House.
Shewale, the leader of the rebel faction of the Shiv Sena, claimed that they have aligned with the BJP as per the wishes of Thackeray, who was himself making similar efforts in June last year but backtracked later. The Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena, however, rubbished claims made by Shewale.
The 12 Lok Sabha members also wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla identifying Shewale as their leader, expressing no confidence in incumbent Vinayak Raut and retaining five-term member Bhawna Gawli as the chief whip.
The letter came a day after the Thackeray camp had written to the Speaker asserting that Vinayak Raut is the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha and Rajan Vichare the chief whip. It also urged the Speaker not to entertain any representation from the rival faction.
Addressing a press conference flanked by the 12 Lok Sabha members, Shinde claimed that the Lok Sabha Speaker had recognised Shewale as the Shiv Sena leader in the Lower House.
Late Tuesday night, the Speaker approved the plea and recognised Shewale as the Shiv Sena’s leader in the Lok Sabha in place of Vinayak Raut.
The break in the Shiv Sena ranks in Parliament came a month after Shinde led a rebellion and walked out of the party with a large chunk of MLAs on June 20. The number of MLAs joining the Shinde camp from the Shiv Sena gradually rose to 40 out of the total 55.
Shinde was appointed chief minister on June 30 after incumbent Uddhav Thackeray quit the post in the wake of the rebellion.
Shinde asserted that the 12 Lok Sabha members were following the ideals of Balasaheb Thackeray and were the original Shiv Sena. The faction is also learnt to have staked a claim on the parliamentary party office in Parliament.
“I welcome the stand taken by 12 Lok Sabha members of the Shiv Sena in supporting us. Our stand (of aligning with the BJP) was supported by 50 MLAs. We also received support from the party workers as well as people of the state,” Shinde said.
Shewale, a two-term member from Mumbai South Central, said Shiv Sena MPs had asked Thackeray in June last year to realign with the BJP as it would be difficult for them to win the 2024 parliamentary elections if the alliance with Congress and NCP continued.
Shewale claimed that Thackeray had told the Shiv Sena MPs that he too was keen on realigning with the BJP and had made a lot of efforts in that direction last year. He said Thackeray had even discussed the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, only to backtrack later.
However, the decision to suspend 12 BJP MLAs from the Maharashtra assembly for one year in July last year created doubts in the BJP ranks about the sincerity of the Sena’s desire to revive the alliance with the BJP.Shewale claimed that Thackeray had presented the MPs with three options – an alliance with the BJP, going it alone and continuing with the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi coalition with the Congress and the NCP. “We have merely chosen the first option suggested by Thackeray,” he said.
The Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena rejected the claim. “There was no talk of Shri Uddhav ji wanting to get back into the previous alliance at the MP’s meet, so that’s obfuscation to justify deceit,” Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member Priyanka Chaturvedi said.
The Shiv Sena has 19 members in the Lok Sabha, including one from Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and three members in Rajya Sabha. Members who have declared support for Shinde include Shewale, Bhawna Gawli, Sadashiv Lokhande, Hemant Godse, Hemant Patil, Rajendra Gavit, Sanjay Mandalik, Shrikant Shinde, Shrirang Barne, Prataprao Jadhav, Dhairyasheel Mane and Krupal Tumane.
The Lok Sabha members with Thackeray are Vinayak Raut, Rajan Vichare, Omraje Nimbalkar, Sanjay Jadhav, Gajanan Kirtikar, Arvind Sawant and Kalaben Delkar. Rajya Sabha members Sanjay Raut, Anil Desai and Chaturvedi are with Thackeray. Meanwhile, police in Maharashtra have beefed up security at the office of Shiv Sena MP Krupal Tumane and some of the other Sena parliamentarians