With a majority of the party legislators joining a rebellion led by Eknath Shinde, the Shiv Sena appears to be slipping out of the control of its chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the ruling tripartite alliance of the Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is unravelling, and it is unclear what will take its place. The Congress and the NCP have pledged the continuation of their support to Mr. Thackeray, who has in turn expressed his willingness to step aside in favour of another leader from the party. The Congress has even offered to provide outside support to the government should it help the Sena put its house in order. Mr. Shinde, until he turned rebel, was a key Sena leader, and has couched his rebellion in ideological terms; the Sena has drifted away from its Hindutva moorings by aligning with the NCP and the Congress, according to him. Mr. Thackeray has responded by reiterating his steadfast commitment to Hindutva, in an emotional appeal to party MLAs to stay together. But that seems to have done little to soothe frayed nerves in the party, and more leaders are flocking to the rebel tent. The MVA alliance was formed after months of political machinations, including the dramatic swearing-in of a short-lived government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a section of the NCP that returned to the party quickly. The BJP is waiting for the opportune moment to make its next move, after using its governments in Gujarat and Assam to abet the revolt.
The Sena severed its ties with long-term partner BJP, even overlooking their ideological bonding of Hindutva to reclaim its eroding primacy in State politics. Despite the ideological mismatch among the allies, the MVA partners had compulsions to stay united — until the resentment within the Sena snowballed to challenge the authority of the Thackeray family. This crisis has been in the making for a long time, and the CM’s blind trust in the loyalty of his warriors has turned out to be misplaced. To be fair, these MLAs had been complaining about lack of access to the Chief Minister and his son and Minister Aaditya Thackeray. The junior Thackeray’s attempts to reshape the party as more palatable to the upper-class sensibilities disturbed the rustic, often restive party base that used to be kept on a constant boil by his grandfather and party founder Bal Thackeray. Mr. Shinde is one of the very few mass leaders in Sena, after the Thackerays. He is perceived to be accessible, and holds sway in two districts neighbouring Mumbai, almost six municipal corporations and an equal number of smaller local bodies. He felt sidelined in the new scheme of things, and was waiting for the right opportunity to strike. The Sena is at a crossroads and could even head to a dead end.