The discontent with Uddhav that drove Shinde and others to rebel

Political observers point to the unmistakable fingerprint of the BJP, but also concede that the working style of the Shiv Sena and Uddhav is also largely to blame for the rebellion

Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena, Matoshree, Eknath Shinde, Election Commission
Unlike his father, Uddhav Thackeray’s keeping tabs on his ministers did not go down well with Sena leaders.

The Supreme Court’s decision to put off till July 11 a ruling on the disqualification of 15 Shiv Sena rebels has given the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government time to choreograph further actions to save itself. However, though Uddhav might have found a breather, he cannot put a blanket on his failure to connect with his own people and other ministers in the MVA alliance.

Uddhav certainly enjoys the support of the Shiv Sena’s rank and file, but his popularity among the party leaders has been on the wane for several reasons.

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There has been much speculation over the reasons behind the rebellion in the Shiv Sena that has taken the MVA government to the brink of collapse. Political observers point to the unmistakable fingerprint of the BJP, but also concede that the working style of the Shiv Sena is also largely to blame.  The party has been structured in such a way that the instructions of its supremo are considered the last word in the party.

In the past, rebels have never had it easy in the Shiv Sena. The party’s cadres are its strength; they do not easily forgive defectors. Right from Chhagan Bhujbal to Raj Thackeray, all rebels struggled to survive in politics. Bhujbal left for the Congress and later the NCP, and Narayan Rane joined the BJP just to oppose. Raj’s MNS is yet to gain political currency. 

If, knowing this, the Shinde-led rebels are choosing to oppose Uddhav, it speaks volumes about their unhappiness with the state of affairs.

Strong power centre

The power-centre model was successful when the Shiv Sena first tasted electoral success in the state in 1995. Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray acted as a parallel power centre to the then Sena Chief Ministers, Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane. He controlled the entire administration and the party, and kept the junior partner BJP under check. But what worked out well for him did not work for Uddhav.

Also read: Shiv Sena and BJP: How love turned to hatred in a saffron haze

Uddhav led the party after Balasaheb’s death and survived the Modi wave in 2014. The BJP’s confidence got a boost after the massive mandate it got in the 2014 general elections; as a result, it decided to go solo in the state election in 2014.

Uddhav, contesting the first election after the death of Balasaheb, managed to win 63 seats and joined the BJP-led government as a junior partner. He tried to remote control the government but the victorious BJP did not concede space. Uddhav was smart enough to understand that the BJP’s plan was to take ownership of the regional version of Hindutva.

Uddhav as CM

What Uddhav could not do in 2014, he tried to do so after taking over the reins of the three-party MVA government and followed Balasaheb’s model of working. It is said that Eknath Shinde’s files were scrutinised by close aides of Uddhav. All Sena ministers went through a similar situation. Unlike his father, Uddhav’s keeping tabs on his ministers did not go down well with Sena leaders.

The other issue that created heartburn for Sena leaders was the prominence Uddhav gave to his son. Aditya Thackeray was made a cabinet minister and soon he and his friends in the student’s wing started influencing and keeping tabs on Sena ministers. This was resented by the party’s ministers. Moreover, Aditya became close to the NCP-Congress camp and senior Sena leaders were sidelined. These acts widened the gap between party leaders and Uddhav.

Free hand to NCP

Making matters worse was the domination of the NCP in the MVA government. As the main architect of the MVA government, NCP chief Sharad Pawar grabbed key ministerial portfolios like home, finance, irrigation and health. Sena rebels accused state Finance Minister Ajit Pawar of playing favourites, saying their party MLAs did not get the desired allocation of funds. 

Shinde has also alleged that the NCP was the true beneficiary of this government. However, due to alliance compulsions and to please the NCP supremo, Uddhav did not question the rising authority of NCP ministers in the government. Even Ajit Pawar in a press conference admitted to some instances of awry fund allocation.

In fact, the Congress, a neglected partner in the coalition, also accused the NCP of unfair fund allocation to MLAs. 

Over dependence on close aides

The present crisis also has its genesis in what has been the Shiv Sena’s history. Many prominent Sena leaders have left the party with their loyalists in the past too, like Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane. All such leaders had also accused the party chief of lack of communication. Cousin Raj Thackeray too had openly attacked Uddhav and his team for not allowing him to meet with late Balasaheb.

Also read: From Raj to Rane to Shinde: Shiv Sena’s long tryst with rebellion

This time too, one of the main accusations against Uddhav has been that he is surrounded by a coterie that has acted as an impenetrable wall between Uddhav and other Sena leaders and ministers. It is said that even ministers had to wait for weeks to get an appointment with the CM. The Congress and NCP ministers too have had a similar experience.

It is alleged that all important files in the MVA government go through Milind Narvekar, a close aide of Uddhav, who was recently appointed to the Tirupati Balaji temple trust. Narvekar’s influence, it is said, widened the gulf between Uddhav and party leaders and cadres.

This mistrust resulted in upsets during the recent Rajya Sabha and legislative council elections. Shinde was totally sidelined during the Rajya Sabha elections and Uddhav’s overdependence on Sena minister Anil Parab and MP Sanjay Raut turned into a fiasco. The cumulative effect was seen in the legislative council elections, which took place soon after Rajya Sabha elections, where Sena members cross-voted.

External factors at play

Apart from internal dissension within the Shiv Sena, external factors too seem to have played a part in the present crisis. The spectre of investigations by central agencies like the ED and the CBI too seem to have influenced many MLAs and ministers holed up in Guwahati.

The most recent example of this has been the ED notice to Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut. Raut has been the Uddhav camp’s most visible face, and he was seen as galvanising the party cadre against the rebel leaders. The ED served summons to Raut in a land scam case on Monday. The timing of the ED notice sends a clear signal that the BJP does not want the Uddhav camp to fight back.

Similar investigations by central agencies against other Sena leaders and ministers in the recent past too led to disquiet in the party. Shinde too, it is being said, was on the ED’s radar.

Those under investigation accused the Sena leadership of not coming to their aid to battle the charges and not supporting them publicly. Pratap Sarnaik, MLA from Thane district of Maharashtra, openly expressed his displeasure against Sena leadership over non-cooperation during the investigation against him. This became another reason for unrest. Sarnaik is said to be one of the prominent leaders behind the rebellion.

Also read: Shiv Sena’s street-fighting skills keep party rebels, BJP at bay

In fact, many Congress and NCP leaders left their respective parties in the recent past fearing ED raids. These leaders have publicly mentioned that they can sleep peacefully now after joining the BJP as they no longer have the fear of ED. In this regard, it cannot be ruled out that the rebel Sena leaders want a safe haven which an alliance with the BJP would provide. 

The Shinde-led rebellion thus is not just a BJP-sponsored intrigue, but also a collective response to Uddhav’s alleged administrative and leadership failures.