Maharashtra: Sena vs Sena battle now moves to people’s court
Narwekar rejected all 34 petitions, filed by both sides, seeking the disqualification of 54 MLAs belonging to rival factions. | File photo

Maharashtra: Sena vs Sena battle now moves to people’s court

The Uddhav camp will continue to play the victim card and hope to garner people’s sympathy by weaving a narrative that “the original Shiv Sena has been hijacked”

With Maharashtra Speaker Rahul Narwekar recognising the Shiv Sena faction led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde as the “real Shiv Sena” in his verdict, the Sena vs Sena battle is now set to intensify, this time in the people’s court, in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The Speaker’s ruling came as a shot in the arm for the Shinde faction, particularly in view of the fact that Maharashtra is all set to go to the Lok Sabha polls as well as the assembly elections this year. Moreover, Maharashtra sends 48 MPs to the Lok Sabha, making it the second most crucial state in the country after Uttar Pradesh which elects 80 MPs. The verdict has not only strengthened Shinde’s position but also brought stability to the ruling alliance which comprises the BJP and the breakaway factions of Shiv Sena and NCP.

Power play

Talking to The Federal, political analyst Abhay Deshpande said the verdict has certainly come as a boost for the Shinde camp as they have been recognised as the “real Shiv Sena” by two constitutional bodies now, the Election Commission of India being the first. He said the verdict may also cause some hectic activity among the fence-sitters in the Shiv Sena.

Deshpande opined that the Uddhav camp will continue to play the victim card and hope to garner people’s sympathy by weaving a narrative that “the original Shiv Sena has been hijacked”. According to him, not only the Uddhav faction but also the Sharad Pawar camp of the NCP will rake up the issue of “BJP’s dirty politics” in a bid to get people’s support ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. On the other hand, the Shinde camp will work on the counter-narrative of “the party not being a private property of a family”, he added.

He said though the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance comprising Congress, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray faction and NCP’s Sharad Pawar camp has an upper hand right now, it will be difficult for them to sustain amid the Ram temple euphoria. Moreover, he contended that the Lok Sabha elections will be a different ballgame as the Uddhav camp will not be able to gain sympathy with national issues taking centre stage.

“The Uddhav camp may get some respite from the Supreme Court, but no one can predict whether it will come before the crucial Lok Sabha elections. It is high time for Thackeray to go to the people and establish that he has his own vote bank,” said Mumbai-based senior journalist Mrunalini Nanivadekar while talking to The Federal. She said Uddhav is facing the test of his life as he will have to prove that he can revive his party’s fortunes when the Hindutva agenda is back in the limelight with the Ram temple’s opening this year.

She said the Speaker's verdict could not have come at a better time for the Shinde camp and the ruling alliance as the general elections are fast approaching. She said it won’t be easy for the INDIA bloc parties to put up a united face in the Lok Sabha elections as they haven’t yet reached a seat-sharing arrangement. “It will be too premature to say how the Sena vs Sena battle will pan out in the assembly election later this year, as it all depends on the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls,” she added.

The verdict

Interestingly, Narwekar rejected all 34 petitions, filed by both sides, seeking the disqualification of 54 MLAs belonging to rival factions. He said he had followed three parameters while taking the decision – the Shiv Sena Constitution, its leadership structure, and the legislative majority. He maintained that though the Shiv Sena (undivided) constitution was amended in 2018, it was not on the records, and therefore he considered the constitution of 1999 which was there with the Election Commission of India.

The Speaker also held that the Shiv Sena ‘pramukh’ (chief) did not have the power to remove any leader from the party. He also did not accept the argument that the will of the party chief and the will of the party were synonymous. After giving his decision, he said the order sent out a clear message that no party is a “private limited property”, and it is also against autocracy and dynasty politics.

Narwekar also dismissed the Thackeray camp’s “match-fixing” allegations after the latter objected to a meeting between him and CM Shinde, just ahead of the verdict. He said there was no provision under the law, which stated that the Speaker while adjudicating disqualification petitions could not perform other duties.

Battlelines drawn

Chief Minister Shinde termed Narwekar’s verdict as the “victory of democracy” while stating that the ruling had been given on merit.

“It is ‘Satyamev Jayate’. Truth has won…This result has been given on merit,” Shinde was quoted as saying. “Firstly, I sincerely congratulate all the Shiv Sainiks of the state. Today’s verdict is not a victory for any party, but a victory for the Indian constitution and democracy. Lakhs of voters in the state who voted for Shiv Sena-BJP alliance candidates in 2019 have won today. This is the victory of the Shiv Sainiks, who went out with the thoughts of Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray,” he tweeted in Marathi.

On the other hand, the Uddhav Thackeray camp dubbed the Speaker’s decision a “murder of democracy”. Launching a scathing attack on Narwekar, Uddhav trashed his verdict and flayed him for violating the mandate set by the Supreme Court.

Questioning the Speaker’s decision, Thackeray contended that he had not disqualified anyone, which was the key issue. “I think the Assembly Speaker did not understand the mandate — what he was asked to do. It was a simple case of disqualification. The Supreme Court laid down a framework but the Speaker thought he was above the Supreme Court and came up with his own court and verdict,” Uddhav said. “Probably, he did not understand or there were orders from the top,” he said.

Thackeray said Narwekar didn’t have the authority to invalidate him as Sena chief. “How can the Assembly Speaker decide whether we should have Shiv Sena chief or Shiv Sena party chief? It is our decision.” An unrelenting Shiv Sena (UBT) chief termed the order a “fixed match”, alleging that the Speaker had met the CM before delivering his verdict. He stated that he would fight this injustice and approach the Supreme Court against Narwekar’s decision.

Veteran Sena leader Sanjay Raut also slammed the order, calling it a “conspiracy”. He added it was a “black day” for the Marathi manoos. “The order (by the Speaker) has been received from Delhi, we don’t accept it. This order is not according to law and the Constitution. It was the BJP’s dream to finish Balasaheb Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, but the Shiv Sena will not end like this. The order is a conspiracy. We will move the Supreme Court...our fight will continue in courts,” said Raut.

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