Denying that they had staged a “rebellion”, the Shiv Sena MLAs led by Minister Eknath Shinde, who are currently camping in Assam, on Monday launched a blistering attack on Sena MP Sanjay Raut, accusing him of finishing off the party allegedly on the orders of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.
The dissident MLAs claimed that they were fighting for the preservation of the party’s “self-esteem”.
In a strongly-worded open letter which he posted on Twitter, Sena MLA Deepak Kesarkar, who is the Minister of Sindhudurg district, said it was only because of the vitriol spewed on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Mr. Raut that the chasm between the two parties had widened.
“It is unfortunate that the party is being run on Sanjay Raut’s advice … a person who has not been elected by the people is set-out to finish off the party. You may distance us from the BJP. But if you distance the Shiv Sena from ‘Hindutva’, then how do you expect us to tolerate this?” Mr. Kesarkar said in the letter.
With the majority of the 55 Sena MLAs siding with Mr. Shinde, the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction on Monday had taken the offensive against the rebel MLAs.
Mr. Raut vented spleen on the Shinde camp, calling them “living corpses” who would be sent to a mortuary for post-mortem on their return from the Assam capital of Guwahati.
The controversial statement by the Rajya Sabha member provoked Mr. Kesarkar’s letter, which categorically blamed Mr. Raut for compelling the MLAs to take such a decision while castigating him as the NCP’s “blue-eyed boy”.
“Sanjay Raut has committed the heinous crime of distancing [Chief Minister and Sena president] Uddhav Thackeray from us…the NCP fires the gun from his shoulder and who does the bullet hit — not enemies of our party but party loyalists like us. This is not acceptable,” Mr. Kesarkar said, adding that the alliance of the BJP and the Sena (‘Yuti’) was in line with the verdict given by the people of Maharashtra.
He questioned whether the Sena ought to let go off all its self esteem to merely “please Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi”.
“How can we defend a Minister who has ties to Dawood Ibrahim [NCP’s Nawab Malik]? Even during the recent Rajya Sabha elections, the NCP defeated the Sena’s candidate,” alleged Mr. Kesarkar, stating that during the Parliamentary debate on the abolition of Article 370, Shiv Sena leaders were not able to speak openly owing to their alliance with the Congress and the NCP in the State.
He further said that Mr. Raut could today sit in the Rajya Sabha only because of the support of all Sena MLAs. “And now, he wishes our dead bodies… in the last few days, we are being branded as villains,” he said.
Mr. Kesarkar further said that ties between the Sena and the BJP in 2014 were severed only because of the party’s leadership’s refusal to let go of four seats.
“Because of the efforts of Narendra Modi and Uddhav Thackeray, we won 18 MPs in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. We were ready to contest together in the 2014 Assembly election as well. At that time, Aaditya Thackeray had given the slogan for ‘Mission 151+’,” he said.
Mr. Kesarkar said while the BJP had initially promised 140 seats, they eventually agreed to let the Sena have 147 seats while they themselves contested on 127. However, the Sena leadership remained intransigent on its demand for four more seats which led to the split in the alliance, alleged Mr. Kesarkar.
He further remarked that when the two parties eventually got together, Mr. Raut began hurling his venomous barbs (during the BJP-Sena alliance from 2014-19) and using language and cheap criticism that was not used even by the Opposition parties like the Congress and the NCP and others in the country.
The rebel Sena MLA further said that despite the growing gulf between the BJP and the Sena owing to Mr. Raut being brought to the notice of the party leadership, nothing was done about it.
“While the BJP was increasing is strength under Modi leadership, even the Sena was constantly trying to grow. The outcome was that due to two similarly ideological parties growing Hindutva was gaining strength…Balasaheb’s [late Sena founder Bal Thackeray] basic mantra was that focusing on Hindutva was above alliances,” said Mr. Kesarkar.
He further said that just when the government formation [between the BJP and the Sena after 2019 Assembly election] remained a mere formality, Mr. Raut allegedly became active on the advice of the “strong NCP leader”.
Alleging that a very systematic effort was made to demolish all that the Shiv Sena stood for, the MLA questioned the rationale for the ideologically opposed ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ government.
“What kind of power it is when one is on a path of self-destruction? What is the point of power if Shiv Sena will cease to exist?” he asked.