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Devendra Fadnavis not seen at BJP event, to skip party’s national executive meeting too

Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, who was appointed No. 2 in the Shinde cabinet after initially stating that he will not be a part of the new government, was conspicuous by his absence during a celebration held at the party’s state headquarters.

Back in 2018, then Maharashtra CM Fadnavis had said in the state Assembly that his government would provide pension to those who were imprisoned during the Emergency period under the Indira Gandhi government. (PTI)

A day after rebel leader Eknath Shinde took over as the new Maharashtra Chief Minister, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Friday sought to corner the BJP for installing a “so-called Shiv Sainik” as CM and claimed the national party did not honour its 2019 promise of rotating the top post.

Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, who was appointed No. 2 in the Shinde cabinet after initially stating that he will not be a part of the new government, was conspicuous by his absence during a celebration held at the party’s state headquarters. He would also not attend the BJP’s national executive meeting in Hyderabad, a party source said.

The programme at the BJP office in south Mumbai was meant to celebrate its return to power after two-and-half years following the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government.

In his first public comments after stepping down as chief minister on June 29, Thackeray asserted there can be no Shiv Sena chief minister by keeping the party aside and said had Union Home Minister and then-BJP president Amit Shah kept his word of rotating the top post in the state in 2019, the BJP would have been steering the government now.

Addressing a first press conference at Shiv Sena Bhavan, the party headquarters at Dadar in central Mumbai, Thackeray also made a fervent appeal to the new government led by Shinde not to go ahead with the Metro-3 car shed project at Aarey Colony, a green belt in suburban Goregaon.

In their first cabinet meeting held on Thursday, chief minister Shinde and his deputy Fadnavis of the BJP directed the state administration to submit a proposal to build the Metro-3 car shed in Aarey Colony instead of Kanjurmarg. The Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government had shifted the proposed car shed site to Kanjurmarg from Aarey Colony on ground of environment protection, but the issue got embroiled in a legal dispute.

“The way this (Shinde) government was formed and those (the BJP) who formed the government…they have said that a so-called Shiv Sainik has been made the chief minister…those who did not keep the word two-and-a-half-years back and by back-stabbing (the Sena)… again attempts are made to create confusion among the Shiv Sainiks by calling it (Shinde) a Shiv Sena CM, then this is not a Sena CM. There can be no Sena CM by keeping the Sena aside,” Thackeray asserted.

Around 40 Sena MLAs led by Shinde rebelled against the party leadership last week which eventually led to the collapse of the Thackeray-led government. “Had everything taken place as decided between me and Amit Shah, the change of power would have been graceful and dignified. And I would not have become the chief minister or the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) would not have been formed,” Thackeray said. Had Shah kept his word (on rotation of CM’s post for 2.5 years each between the Shiv Sena and the BJP), it would have been a great government, the former CM said.

The BJP, however, has repeatedly claimed there was no deal to share the CM’s post for 2.5 years each between the saffron parties. The Shiv Sena later walked out of the saffron alliance and joined hands with its ideological and political rivals Congress and the NCP to form the MVA government.

Thackeray said he was saddened by the new government’s plan to relocate the Metro car shed to Aarey Colony, which enjoys the state of a reserved forest, from Kanjurmarg in suburabn Mumbai. “I request with folded hands. Don’t vent out your anger against me in Mumbai. Don’t stab Mumbai in its heart. I am very upset that Aarey’s decision has been overturned. This is not personal property,” the Sena president said.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear on July 11 the plea of Shiv Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu seeking suspension from assembly of Chief Minister Shinde and 15 rebel MLAs against whom disqualification pleas are pending, saying it was “fully conscious” of the issue.

A vacation bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and J B Pardiwala was urged by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Prabhu, that the interim plea needed an urgent hearing due to the pendency of disqualification proceedings against 16 lawmakers including the chief minister.

The Shinde-led government will face the floor test on July 4, the last day of the two-day special session of the Assembly which will also see election of a new speaker, an official said.

First-time Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Rahul Narvekar on Friday filed his nomination as the party candidate for the post of Assembly speaker, election for which, if required, will be held on July 3.

The opposition MVA, consisting of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress is yet to announce its candidate for the post, lying vacant since Congress MLA Nana Patole resigned from the post in February last year.

Chief Minister Shinde will table a motion of confidence in the Assembly on July 4, the official, a senior functionary in Vidhan Bhawan, said. There was nothing unexpected about Fadnavis becoming Deputy Chief Minister in the new government, state BJP president Chandrakant Patil said.

In a dramatic sequence of events on June 30, Fadnavis, a former chief minister, announced that Shinde would be the next CM while he would stay out of the government. But later, he took oath as Shinde’s deputy. “I am aware that many people were shocked by the events yesterday. But there was nothing unexpected in what happened with Devendra Fadnavis,” Patil told reporters here.

“BJP decided to support Shinde for CM’s post for taking the Hindutva ideology ahead. But Shinde himself asked Fadnavis to join his cabinet. So Fadnavis asked our leaders in Delhi for permission,” he said. Shinde has said his elevation to the top post was due to a masterstroke by Fadnavis.

“People thought that the BJP was desperate for power. But truly, this is a masterstroke by Devendra ji. To hand over power to another person despite having larger numbers (of MLAs) requires a big heart,” he told a TV channel. Hours after taking oath as CM, Shinde landed in Goa on late Thursday night to meet rebel Sena MLAs, who are camping in a resort in the coastal state. “My colleagues and entire Maharashtra are happy that Balasaheb Thackeray’s Shiv Sainik has become the chief minister of the state,” Shinde said at the Goa airport.

A decision on the cabinet expansion would be taken by Shinde and Fadanavis after the floor test, rebel Sena MLA Deepak Kesarkar said at a press conference in the resort located near Panaji. Kesarkar said no discussion has taken so far on cabinet berths or distribution of portfolios to MLAs.

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