Two WEEKS after the MVA government led by him was pulled down by the BJP and Shiv Sena rebel leader Eknath Shinde, Shiv Sena chief and former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said on Tuesday that his party would support the NDA’s presidential candidate, Droupadi Murmu.
Thackeray’s announcement came a day after his meeting with party MPs, where several MPs “requested” him to support Murmu and open the door to a possible reconciliation with the BJP and the breakaway Shinde faction.
The Opposition, including the Congress and NCP — the Sena’s MVA allies — has fielded Yashwant Sinha for the July 18 presidential polls.
“Nobody pressured me in the meeting of Sena MPs… I am again saying there is no pressure on me to back Droupadi Murmu,” Thackeray said at a press conference. “In fact, going by the present political atmosphere, I should not have backed her as she is the BJP’s candidate. But the Shiv Sena is not narrow-minded,” he said.
“Many tribal party leaders and other party workers met me and told me this is the first time that a tribal woman is getting an opportunity to become the President… Hence, if we (Shiv Sena) support her, then all of them will be happy. Respecting their request and love, I am announcing that we are giving our support to Murmu,” Thackeray said.
He recalled that the Sena had backed UPA nominees Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential polls earlier, although the Sena was then a constituent of the BJP-led NDA. “Even at that time, the Shiv Sena had thought beyond politics and did what is good for the country,” Thackeray said.
The Shiv Sena has 19 members in Lok Sabha, including 18 from Maharashtra, and three members in Rajya Sabha. In Maharashtra, Thackeray is left with 15 MLAs, after 40 legislators sided with the Shinde faction.
According to party sources, at least eight of the 13 MPs from Maharashtra who attended the meeting on Monday were in favour of supporting Murmu’s candidature and a possible “patch-up” with the BJP and the Shinde faction, “considering the upcoming elections (for local bodies) and the party’s future”.
Earlier in the day, Sena MP Sanjay Raut sought to draw a distinction, saying the party’s decision to support Murmu did not mean that it was supporting the BJP.
“There was bitterness between Sena and BJP, and the rebellion increased it. But if the party extends support to Murmu, the door for reconciliation will be opened and there will be an opportunity to begin the process of patching up and establishing a relationship once again,” a party functionary had said on Monday.
Earlier, Sena MP Rahul Shewale had written to Thackeray, asking him to extend support to Murmu. With the Shinde faction claiming that 12 Sena MPs were in touch with them, there was speculation they they could switch sides if Thackeray didn’t support Murmu.
Meanwhile, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Balasaheb Thorat said the Sena’s decision was incomprehensible. “The presidential election is an ideological battle. It is an ongoing struggle for democracy and the defence of the Constitution. This is not a battle between men and women, or tribals and non-tribals. All those who are in favor of the protection of the Constitution and democracy are supporting Yashwant Sinha,” he said.
“The Shiv Sena is a different political party, so it can take its own stand. However, the party’s stand amid this ideological battle, when the state government was overthrown by a non-democratic process and the Shiv Sena’s existence was challenged, is incomprehensible. The Shiv Sena is in the MVA, but they have not discussed anything with us while taking this decision,” Thorat said.
NCP leader Jayant Patil said: “Shiv Sena has not given support to NDA, it has only extended support to Murmu who hails from a tribal background. Earlier too, the Shiv Sena supported the other party’s candidate, be it Pratibha Patil or Pranab Mukherjee.”
Welcoming Thackeray’s decision, rebel MLA and spokesperson of the Shinde faction, Deepak Kesarkar, said: “It is good that he is supporting Murmu. We had appealed for the same earlier.” He said he would attend a meeting of the NDA in New Delhi on Wednesday, ahead of the presidential election.
A source said since the Shiv Sena has now extended support, Murmu is likely to meet Thackeray – she is scheduled to be in Mumbai on July 14.
Meanwhile, the Sena on Tuesday asked Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari not to administer oath of office to any rebel MLA who may be appointed minister, claiming that the “legality of the decision to appoint Shinde as Chief Minister is also sub judice”. In a letter to the Governor, Sena general secretary Subhash Desai said the issue pertaining to the disqualification of the MLAs was pending before the Supreme Court.