Amid the ongoing tussle for the control of the Shiv Sena between party president Uddhav Thackeray and dissident Eknath Shinde, party leader Sanjay Raut on Sunday dared the rebels to quit as MLAs and face fresh elections, but also said the doors of the party were open for those who wish to return.
He expressed confidence that the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising the Sena, NCP and Congress will survive the current crisis.
Majority of Shiv Sena MLAs have sided with Shinde and are currently camping in Guwahati, plunging the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads the Sena, into a crisis.
"My open challenge to the rebels is to resign and seek a fresh mandate from their electorate. In the past, Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and their supporters had resigned as Sena MLAs to join other parties. Even (Union minister) Jyotiraditya Scindia supporters in Madhya Pradesh had resigned as Congress MLAs (in March 2020)," Raut told reporters here.
The Sena rank and file are already on the ground waiting for a signal from the leadership, he said, hinting that the party was ready to take on the rebels.
Raut scoffed at Shinde's tweet last night, in which he urged the Sena workers to have faith in him and that he was trying to save the party from the "python clutches" of MVA allies.
"Don't know if these people are drugged. They have been in power for two-and-a-half years getting the creamest portfolios as ministers," Raut said.
In a veiled warning, Raut said there can be a rebellion within the group of rebels as well. "Once they come back to Mumbai, they will know where exactly the rebellion is. We are against using the name of Shiv Sena and Balasaheb Thackeray by their group".
Expressing confidence that the MVA will survive the crisis, Raut said, "The rebels claim to have the support of majority of MLAs. So why are they still in Guwahati? Come to Mumbai. I will myself go the airport to welcome them."
"I won't be surprised if the rebels attack each other in the Guwahati hotel as they have been forcibly kept there," he claimed.
He said the party doors are open for those who wish to come back. "I am in touch with many of them. Let's see if BJP makes Shinde a CM," he said.
Referring to the reports of Shinde's secret meetings with BJP leaders, he further said," If you have guts, use your own father's name to get votes or your fathers in Vadodara, Surat, Delhi."
He lashed out to at the BJP saying they are sponsoring the rebels when Assam is braving floods causing loss of lives and property.
The hotel where the rebels are staying has 340 rooms. It is a 18-storey building and three floors have been booked for the rebels, he said.
"I have been sending e-mails to the hotel asking for 40 rooms. I sent an e-mail to Assam chief minister as well who invited Uddhav Thackeray to Assam as a tourist. I wrote to him that we have to hold a programme to boost tourism in Maharashtra and Assam. So we need booking in the hotel. But I haven't received a reply yet," the Sena MP quipped.
Meanwhile, in his weekly column 'Rokhthok' published in the Sena mouthpiece 'Saamana' on Sunday, Raut criticised Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Devendra Fadnavis, saying that if he was indeed behind the party legislators' rebellion, then has taken a wrong step.
"The hunger of these rebels is huge. If Fadnavis plans to come back to power by encouraging them, then that dispensation will not last. Once again Fadnavis has taken a wrong decision. How will these rebels stay with Fadnavis, when they have left their own mother," Raut wrote.
Shinde had a good chance of becoming a chief minister had he continued in Shiv Sena. Shinde would have been the chief minister if the BJP hadn't gone back on its word of rotational chief minister post, Raut said, adding, "It is surprising that shinde wants to go to BJP."
The executive editor of 'Saamana' also wrote that rebel MLAs Pratap Sarnaik, Yamini Jadhav, Lata Sonawane and others have cases of money laundering and caste validity registered against them.
"One of the rebel MLAs said he was free after the ED cases against him were cleared that he would do whatever BJP says," Raut said.
Raut wondered why some rebel MLAs first went to Surat before flying to Guwahati, when the first batch had already reached Assam.
"This is a case of research. If the rebellion is Shiv Sena's internal matter, why are the rebels kept in tight security at Surat and Guwahati," he asked.
Earlier in the day, Raut posted a tweet targeted at the MLAs, in which he said, "How long will you hide in Guwahati, you will have to come to chowpatty," the Sena MP tweeted in Hindi along with a photo of the state Assembly's Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal looking into the distance.
Key government establishments, including the Mantralaya (state secretariat), Vidhan Bhavan (legislature complex), Raj Bhavan and the chief minister's official bungalow 'Varsha' are located in the vicinity of the Girgaum beach, which is also known the Girgaum chowpatty, in south Mumbai.
The Maharashtra legislature secretariat had on Saturday issued 'summons' to 16 of the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs, including Shinde, seeking written replies by the evening of June 27 to the complaints seeking their disqualification.