Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde speaks to the media, in Surat on Wednesday Image Credit: ANI

Ever since the unlikely alliance of the Shiv Sena-Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) came to power in Maharashtra, India back in 2019, many had predicted the government’s quick demise.

That is simply on account of the completely different ideological positions of the Sena on one hand and the Congress on the other.

Could a party that has stood for hard-core Hindutva, and therefore been a natural ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), make it work with a secular Congress?

To the surprise of many, this coalition has lasted two and half years under the Chief Ministership of Uddhav Thackeray. But that is in large part due to the deft political skills of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, who has held this disparate coalition together.

Now, its all coming apart and Uddhav Thackeray has only himself to blame. For years, he lived under the shadow of his all powerful father, Balasaheb Thackeray.

And when Uddhav took over the reins of the Maharashtra government, he had no administrative experience or even political acumen to fall back on.

That is showing today as a large chunk of his party’s MLAs have revolted against him and are looking to form a government with the BJP in the state.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray moved back to Matoshree - his family home - from his official residence Varsha on Wednesday Image Credit: ANI

Many of the disgruntled MLAs say Uddhav has been aloof and inaccessible to them for months. It is a complaint heard from his allies too.

The Indian Express has reported that NCP chief Sharad Pawar had warned Uddhav Thackeray several months ago about “growing anxiety” within the Sena and leaders of the ruling MVA — even hinting at a “possible revolt”.

Pawar, the report says, had sensed the growing dissonance among MVA leaders over the “inaccessibility” of Chief Minister Thackeray. But Uddhav Thackeray did not take it seriously.

The man who has lead the revolt is one of Shiv Sena’s most senior leaders Eknath Shinde. A pro BJP, Hindutva loyalist, he was not comfortable with the MVA alliance from the start.

Leaders from Maharashtra say he was also feeling sidelined by the Chief Minister and resented the rise of his son, Aaditya Thackeray.

In fact the revolt was triggered by an argument he had with the young Thackeray earlier this week after Sena MLAs cross voted in the MLC elections.

No silent bystander

In all of this, the BJP is pretending to be a silent bystander, but it is not. Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has never forgotten or forgiven Uddhav Thackeray for ditching the BJP and forming the MVA government.

Analysts say he has been on a mission to return as Chief Minister and this is a real chance he has at making that comeback. The BJP has been telling journalists that it is watching developments unfold from the sidelines but it cannot be a coincidence that the rebel MLAs flew to a hotel in BJP ruled Gujarat first and now BJP ruled Assam.

It is also not a coincidence that central agencies, especially the Enforcement Directorate or the ED, have been going after Shiv Sena and NCP leaders in Maharashtra in recent months.

In fact, key Sena troubleshooter Anil Parab, was cooling his heels in the ED office in Mumbai as he was summoned for questioning in a case filed against him, on the very days this crisis hit the fan. How much of a role this pressure of agencies has played in the background is a factor too.

For the Shiv Sena, the crisis also reflects an internal churn over where the party stands ideologically. Many in the party were not comfortable with making the Congress a partner (and vice versa).

And with the all important Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections coming up, it is believed Eknath Shinde was pushing Uddhav Thackeray to go back to the BJP and its core base.

He is also believed to have resented some of the more “progressive” issues Aaditya Thackeray has been raising as he seeks to soften the Sena’s hard image.

The BMC is India’s richest civic body and elections are due later this year. Much of this political manauvering has to do with this but also the fact that the loss of Maharashtra was a bruise on the BJP’s ego. To wrest it back will be a huge victory, especially ahead of the 2024 general election.