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“Will Think About Those Who Want To Join…”: Uddhav Thackeray On Sena MPs

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Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray – buoyed by a strong 2024 Lok Sabha election, in which his Shiv Sena faction won nine seats and the splinter group (the ‘original’, the Election Commission said) won seven – has left the door open to lawmakers who jumped ship two years ago, triggering his resignation and fall of his coalition government.

He also said lawmakers who stayed with him after the Sena split in 2022 will stay loyal, amid rumours at least two of his newly elected MPs could jump ship to his rival’s camp.

“All those who supported me will stay (and) we will think about those who want to join us. I will not take anyone’s name… but, after the election, Ram has become BJP-free…” he said.

He also rubbished talk about a reverse switch – he could merge his Sena group with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s ‘original’ and return to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The latter set of events would improve the BJP’s position, after it won only 240 seats on its own, 32 short of majority. Even with the support of NDA partners, specifically Nitish Kumar’s JDU and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, the BJP is only 21 over the majority mark of 272.

For the INDIA bloc, picking up a handful of Shinde Sena MPs won’t allow them to challenge the BJP government, but it would put Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party under stress.

Mr Thackeray also took a jibe at the BJP over the Ram Temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya, which the latter thought would win it a majority, if not all, of the state’s 80 seats and drive it to its ‘abki baar, 400 paar’ target. “After the election, Ram has become BJP-free,” he said. 

On Saturday Mr Thackeray and NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar, whose party also split and lost the ‘original’ tag to the break-away group led by nephew Ajit Pawar, and the Congress’ Prithivraj Chavan addressed a brief presser to thank voters for the Lok Sabha poll results.

“This press conference is to express gratitude to the people of Maharashtra. The people voted for the MVA and rejected attempts of religious polarisation,” Mr Chavan said. 

The MVA, or Maha Vikas Aghadi, is the alliance of Mr Thackeray’s Sena, Sharad Pawar’s NCP faction, and the Congress. This was formed after the 2019 state poll, which the (then undivided) Sena and BJP won, and then broke up over, because of power-sharing squabbles.

“Recently, a meeting of the three parties was held to prepare for the Assembly election. The way we fought the Lok Sabha election, we will fight the Vidhan Sabha poll,” Mr Chavan said.

“Our victory will be certain and there will be a change of power in the state.”

Mr Thackeray, meanwhile, underlined the fact the current central government is no longer run solely by the BJP – which had brute majorities in 2014 and 2019 – but is a coalition. “It was ‘Modi government’ but now it is ‘NDA government’. How long will it last?” he asked.

He also said the Lok Sabha result in the state had exposed the “myth” of the BJP’s electoral invincibility. “There was an atmosphere in the whole country… everyone thought no one could fight against the BJP. But people of Maharashtra showed this is hollow,” he said.

He also hailed the opposition’s strong showing despite an “economically uneven” battle. “It was a fight to save the Constitution and to save democracy,” the former Chief Minister said.

“The fight has just begun…” Mr Thackeray – forced to quit as Chief Minister in 2022, after Mr Shinde’s rebellion – stressed, and asked voters for a similar result in the Assembly poll.

In the 2024 election the MVA – expected to lose a tight race for Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats, the most of any state after Uttar Pradesh’s 80 – surprised many with a thumping win. 

Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar’s parties won 17 seats between themselves. The Congress secured 13, after winning only two in the 2014 election and just one in 2019. By contrast the BJP, which won 23 last time, got nine, and its Sena and NCP allies got eight.

The BJP’s setback, coupled with losses in Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, meant the party fell well short of its ambitious target of 370. The BJP got only 240 – 32 below the majority mark – and needed Nitish Kumar’s JDU and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP to form the union government.

 Shiv Sena faction leader Uddhav Thackeray, NCP faction boss Sharad Pawar, and the Congress’ Prithivraj Chavan have thanked voters for the Lok Sabha election result that favoured their alliance over the BJP’s NDA.    

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