The MVA government led by CM Uddhav Thackeray stayed shaky on Thursday as the ranks of the dissidents swelled and 37 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs camping in Guwahati sent a letter to Maharashtra assembly's deputy speaker Narhari Zirwal stating Eknath Shinde will remain their group leader in legislature. Earlier in the day, Zirwal had said he had approved appointment of Ajay Choudhari as group leader of the Sena legislature party, replacing Shinde.
The letter also stated Bharat Gogavale was appointed the new chief whip of Sena, and "appointment of Sunil Prabhu is cancelled with immediate effect".
The Shinde group needs 37 MLAs to circumvent the anti-defection law. Among the MLAs who joined the rebel camp by Thursday night were those who had stayed with the party at the start of the revolt. Shinde also revealed BJP support in a video in which he said, "A national party has said it'll provide whatever help we need."
Eknath Shinde has claimed a strength of 42 party MLAs, with more arriving by the night, including those who had stayed with the party at the start of the revolt. The Shinde group needs 37 MLAs to circumvent the anti-defection law.
The Sena struck out against the rebels by seeking to disqualify 12 MLAs, including Shinde, from their membership in the state assembly. Sena leader Arvind Sawant approached deputy assembly speaker Narhari Zirwal and moved a petition on the grounds that the 12 MLAs had not attended meetings called by the party whip after the rebellion began.
However, a combative Shinde warned the party not to try and threaten him. "Who are you trying to scare? According to the Constitution, the whip is used for functioning within the assembly, not for party meetings. There are many Supreme Court orders on this," he tweeted.
Lashing out at the party, he said, "We are Shiv Sena pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray's real Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks. We know the law. You have created an illegal group without having the numbers, so we demand action against you."
In his first statement after the rebellion began, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the MVA could not be considered a minority government without a floor test. "Whether it is in the minority or not can only be decided in a floor test in the state assembly. The MVA will succeed in the floor test," Pawar said. He also said the rebel MLAs will have to come to the state assembly for the floor test and "leaders from Assam will not be able to come here to provide guidance".
Deputy speaker of state assembly Narhari Zirwal backed the Sena over Eknath Shinde's dissident faction in the clash on the choice of group leader of Sena's legislature party on Thursday. He said he would examine the letter sent by the Shinde faction, which reappointed him to the post.
In response to CM Uddhav Thackeray's emotional appeal to the rebels on Wednesday, Shinde released a hard-hitting letter from dissident MLA Sanjay Shirsat. The letter accused Thackeray of being inaccessible and flanked by a coterie which did not allow Sena MLAs to meet him. The letter said party MLAs were kept waiting for hours outside the chief minister's residence and finally left in frustration. "Why were Sena MLAs who have been elected from constituencies of 3-4 lakh voters insulted in this manner?" he asked.
It was Sena MLAs who had persuaded Shinde to revolt, Shirsat said. "His doors were always open to us. It was Shinde who helped resolve our problems. Party MLAs persuaded Shinde to take this step (or revolt) for the rights of all the legislators," Shirsat wrote.