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Shinde claims support of 46 MLAs, Raut hints at House dissolution, rebels move to Assam

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Mumbai/Guwahati, Jun 22 (PTI) Faced with revolt by its senior member and Maharashtra Minister  Eknath Shinde, the ruling Shiv Sena on Wednesday hinted at dissolution of the Assembly, while epicentre of the high voltage political drama gripping the state shifted from Surat to Guwahati in Assam, where the rebel leader and party MLAs backing him were flown in the wee hours.

With Shinde, who has claimed the support of 46 MLAs,  showing no signs of backing down from his rebellion, which has pushed the two-and-a-half-year old Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) governemnt to the brink, party MP Sanjay Raut on said the ongoing political developments in Maharashtra could lead to dissolution of the state Assembly.

“The political developments in Maharashtra are headed towards dissolution of the state Assembly,”  tweeted Raut, a close aide of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Later, when asked to elaborate on the tweet, Raut, who is the Shiv Sena’s chief spokesperson, said, “When such a situation arises in any state, I have seen that the Legislative Assembly is dissolved.”

He parried the question on whether Chief Minister Thackeray will resign.

Shinde, who has appointed his own chief whip of the Sena legislature,  said he has 46 MLAs supporting him. “I have more numbers (of Shiv Sena MLAs) than needed (to form a separate group in the Assembly without inviting the anti-defection law provisions),” he told a Marathi TV channel.

The Sena has 55 members in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly.

A chartered flight carrying Shinde and Shiv Sena MLAs, who have rebelled against the party and were camping in a luxury hotel in Surat after raising a banner of revolt on Monday night,  reached Guwahati in the BJP-ruled Assam in the  early hours of Wednesday.

Struggling to tide over the deepening crisis, the Shiv Sena asked all its MLAs, including the rebels accompanying Shinde, to attend a legislature party meeting in Mumbai at 5 PM or face action under the anti-defection law.

Hitting back, Shinde, camping in Guwahati with a section of Sena MLAs loyal to him, said the orders issued by Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu are “legally invalid” as MLA Bharat Gogawale is being appointed as the party chief whip.

Prabhu has written a letter and issued it to some Sena ministers, including the minister of state for Home Shambhuraj Desai who is currently staying with Shinde in Guwahati.

“The Shiv Sena has called for an urgent meeting today evening at ‘Varsha’ bungalow (CM’s official residence) as there have been attempts to make the MVA government unstable. The details regarding the meeting have been shared with all the members (MLAs) on their registered e-mail address, Whatsapp and by way of SMS.

“You cannot remain absent from the meeting without providing a valid and sufficient reason. If you do not attend the meeting, it would be presumed that you have a clear intention of leaving the party. Hence, there will be action taken against you based on the provisions for preventing anti-defection,” the letter said.

“Shiv Sena MLA Bharat Gogawale has been appointed as the chief whip of the Sena legislature. The orders issued by Sunil Prabhu about the meeting of MLAs are legally invalid,” Shinde tweeted.

A day earlier, the Sena had removed Shinde as its group leader in the Legislative Assembly.

Shinde (58), a four-time MLA and cabinet minister,  left Mumbai on Monday night with a sizeable number of MLAs and travelled to Surat in Gujarat, from where they were airlifted to  Guwahati.

In a shot in the arm for Shinde, two more MLAs arrived in Surat on Wednesday afternoon, from where they will be flown to Guwahati in Assam, where other party rebels are camping at present, sources said.

Hours after Shinde and the group of rebel MLAs were shifted to Assam, Manjula Gavit, an independent MLA who represents the Sakri assembly constituency, and Yogesh Kadam, who is Sena’s legislator from Dapoli assembly segment, arrived in Surat.

Sources claimed a third Shiv Sena MLA would join the group of rebel legislators led by Shinde and reach the Gujarat city later during the day.

Still hoping for some understanding with Shinde to end the political crisis, Sena MP Raut said he has been holding discussions with the rebel leader and the talks are “positive”.

Talking to reporters in Mumbai, Raut said Shinde has not put forth any conditions before the party, and that discussions are also underway with other Sena leaders who are with Shinde.

Raut expressed confidence that Shinde and other rebel MLAs will be back into the party fold, and said their “misunderstandings will be addressed”.

Shiv Sena MLA Nitin Deshmukh, who had accompanied Shinde to Surat, claimed some people had forcibly admitted him to a hospital in the Gujarat city  and he was administered injections though he never suffered a heart attack.

Speaking to reporters at the Nagpur airport, the Akola MLA said he somehow managed to return safely to Maharashtra from Surat and pledged loyalty to Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.

Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole said Chief Minister Thackeray has made it clear that there was no proposal to recommend dissolution of the state Assembly.

Patole’s remarks came in the backdrop of reports that the ongoing political developments in the state could lead to dissolution of the Assembly.

“We will run the government effectively,” Patole said, quoting Thackeray.

Patole said senior Congress leader Kamal Nath, who is in Mumbai in the wake of the political crisis in the Maharashtra government, spoke to Chief Minister Thackeray over the phone since the latter has tested positive for COVID-19.

Patole told reporters that Thackeray has asserted that the ruling MVA, comprising the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress will sail through the present crisis.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra minister and Congress Legislature Party leader Balasaheb Thorat said 41 MLAs (out of the total 44 in the state) attended the CLP meeting in Mumbai.

The three others were on their way to the state capital, he said.

“The Congress is united and all the 44 MLAs are together,” Thorat said.

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