The nearly two-and-a-half-year-old Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, a coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress, in Maharashtra has collapsed, literally under its own weight.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was forced to resign as chief Minister by his own colleagues who accused him of abandoning his father, party founder and Hindutva icon Bal Thackeray's brand of politics.
Under Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena emerged as the torch bearer of Hindutva nationalism. A mascot of the Marathi pride, he championed the cause of Marathi manoos (sons of the soil).
The rebels, led by Eknath Shinde, claimed that Uddhav Thackeray had deviated from his father's footsteps, and went against the basic tenets of the Shiv Sena by joining hands with secular forces.
Shinde, a minister in the MVA government, insisted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a natural ally of the Shiv Sena. The decades-old alliance of the two parties ended in November 2019 over who will lead the government.
Undoubtedly, the coming together of these three parties was an unlikely alliance given that they were ideologically poles apart and full of contradictions.
The Congress was considered as the weakest link in the alliance, and its legislators vulnerable to poaching, but the split in the Shiv Sena ranks came as a big surprise.
Rebuild Shiv Sena
In his resignation speech, Uddhav Thackeray said he came to power in an unexpected manner, and was going out in a similar fashion. Also resigning as a member of the legislative council (MLC), the Shiv Sena chief insisted that he is not going away forever, and will sit in the party office to gather his people.
The immediate challenge for Uddhav Thackeray will be to strengthen his hold over the party, rebuild the organisation, and galvanise his cadre. Taking on the rebels will also be high on his agenda.
The Shiv Sainiks are known street fighters, and Uddhav Thackeray will be keen to take the battle to the home turfs of the rebels by playing the victim card, and invoking his late father's legacy.
He made his intentions clear in the resignation speech. "Let the rebels who grew politically because of Shiv Sena and Balasaheb Thackeray get joy and satisfaction of pulling down his son from the post of Chief Minister," he said.
It will also not be an easy task for the rebel legislators to convince their constituents about their revolt. The battle over the supremacy in the Shiv Sena has thus just begun.
For Uddhav Thackeray, it will also be extremely crucial to ensure that the Shiv Sena retain power in the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The high-stake BMC elections are likely to take place at the end of this year.
The Shiv Sena has ruled the BMC for over 25 years with the support of the BJP, and now independently.
In 2017, the BJP for the first time won 82 seats against 85 by the Shiv Sena in the 227-member body.
After forming the government with Shiv Sena rebels, the BJP's next target would be to gain control of the BMC.
Future of MVA
In his resignation speech, Uddhav Thackeray thanked NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for their support. He also praised the two parties for not opposing his proposal to rename Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar and Osmanabad as Dharashiv.
His statement is significant given that the rebels consistently accused Pawar of destroying the Shiv Sena through his ‘blue-eyed boy’ Sanjay Raut.
Uddhav Thackeray also mentioned how Congress leader and former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan during a Cabinet meeting on June 29 offered to walk out of the MVA government and support him from outside if that would satisfy the rebels and prevent the disintegration of the Shiv Sena.
"Those who were expected to ditch me, stood by me while my own left me," Uddhav Thackeray said.
The remarks indicated that Uddhav Thackeray is not going to dump the NCP and the Congress in the immediate future.
However, it is also clear that he would not hesitate in strengthening the Shiv Sena pan Maharashtra even at the cost of antagonising his alliance partners.
The Congress that registered its lowest ever tally in the 2019 assembly elections would be looking at strengthening the party organisation at the grassroots to stem the slide and regain power in the country's financially important state.
The fact that its legislators have no role in bringing down the coalition government must have been a huge relief to the Congress leadership.
For Pawar and the NCP too, the task would be to keep their flock together, and strive to strengthen the party.But for now, the MVA seems to be intact as staying together is in the interest of the three parties, and the continuous rise of the BJP is obviously a cause of concern for them. The options this are visibly limited.