However, his decision appeared to open up a rift in MVA as NCP chief Sharad Pawar was among those who took the lead in putting up Yashwant Sinha as opposition candidate and Sena’s Subhas Desai had, at an opposition meeting, extended support to the former BJP minister.
While an NCP spokesperson said Uddhav was backing a tribal woman and not BJP, Congress’s Balasaheb Thorat termed the decision “incomprehensible” at a time “the existence of Sena has been challenged”.
Uddhav cites earlier support to Patil and Pranab to back ‘right person’
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday cited the party’s support to Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee to back the presidential nominee of a different political formation. “When Pratibha Patil’s name came up, Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray had backed her, going beyond party politics. Even in the case of Pranab Mukherjee, support was given to elect the right person. In the same way, in the last 4-5 days, tribals and Shiv Sainiks working in that community have made a request. Shivajirao Dhawale, Amasha Padvi, Nirmala Gavit of Eklavya Sanghatana, people from the SC-ST community, they have all requested that for the first time, a person from a tribal community is getting a chance to be the president, so we will be happy if you support them. Respecting all these views, the Shiv Sena is supporting (BJP-led NDA nominee) Droupadi Murmu,” Thackeray said.
A majority of Sena’s MPs had told Thackeray at a meet, held on Monday to discuss the party’s stand on the presidential poll, that backing Murmu could open the door for a possible reconciliation with Shinde’s camp and BJP. The MPs urged Thackeray to mend ties with BJP, and Sena’s Nashik MP Hemant Godse on Tuesday became the latest to add to the clamour for realigning with the ex-ally.
Thackeray, however, rejected reports about pressure exerted by MPs and said, “Since all of the Sena’s own members from the tribal community made the request, I thought it would be fair to respect their emotions and decided to support Murmu. I should have opposed this, given the kind of politics that is being played out in Maharashtra, saying that she’s from the BJP. But I don’t have such a narrow mind.”
The Sena had claimed on Monday that all MPs barring two – Bhavani Gawali and CM Shinde’s son Shrikant — were with Uddhav Thackeray.
Though the NCP’s reaction was guarded, with its spokesperson only saying Thackeray had backed a tribal and not the BJP, the Congress, the other MVA partner, said since Sena is part of MVA, it was expected the party’s leadership would discuss the proposal with MVA constituents. “Shiv Sena is a different political party so they can take their own stand. However, when the state government has been overthrown by adopting non-democratic methods and the existence of Sena has been challenged during the ideological battle, the stand taken by Shiv Sena is incomprehensible,” Congress legislature party leader and ex-minister Balasaheb Thorat said.
A political observer said Thackeray had “bought time” with the decision to support Murmu. “This will also blunt the attack from the BJP and Shinde faction MLAs for now. It will be a subtle indication that there can be a thaw between the Sena and BJP,” the observer said.