In a major blow to the Uddhav Thackeray faction a day before the crucial trust vote of the Eknath Shinde-BJP government, the newly-appointed speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly on Sunday night removed Shiv Sena MLA Ajay Chaudhary as the legislative party leader.
A letter issued by the office of Speaker Rahul Narvekar reinstates Shinde as the Shiv Sena's legislative party leader and also recognises the appointment of Bharat Gogawale from the Shinde camp as the chief whip of the Sena, removing Sunil Prabhu, who belongs to the Thackeray faction.
The Shiv Sena said the decision will be challenged in court. The letter addressed to Shiv Sena rebel MLA and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde stated that the Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan administration had received a letter from his faction on June 22 objecting to Mr Shinde's removal as the group leader of the Shiv Sena Legislative Party by the party chief Uddhav Thackeray.
The letter issued by the office of Speaker Rahul Narvekar on Sunday night stated that after discussing the legalities of the matter, the Speaker rejects the appointment of Sena MLA Ajay Chaudhary as the group leader of the legislative unit of the party.
The letter, a copy of which is with PTI, reinstates Mr Shinde as the leader of the House of Shiv Sena and also recognises the appointment of Bharat Gogawale as the chief whip of the party, replacing Sunil Prabhu.
The development comes as a major setback to the Thackeray faction comprising 16 MLAs who will be bound by the whip to be issued by Mr Gogawale for Monday's trust vote.
If these 16 MLAs refuse to follow the whip, they may face disqualification.
Reacting to the development, Shiv Sena chief spokesperson and MP Arvind Sawant said they will challenge this "unconstitutional" decision in court.
"Former Secretary General of Lok Sabha P D T Acharya has given directives that the party leader (chief) has the right to appoint the group leader of the legislative unit of that party. How can you say that (Eknath Shinde) is the (legislative) party leader?"
"We will challenge this decision in court. This is highly unfortunate. The decision is taken on Sunday late night which speaks volumes about how it must have been taken," said Mr Sawant.
He alleged that the decision amounts to trampling the Constitution and democratic norms. "The BJP is marching towards autocracy," Mr Sawant added.
Ousted Shiv Sena group leader Ajay Chaudhary said the new Speaker did not even conduct any hearing over the objections of both sides.
"When my name was proposed for the Shiv Sena group leader's post, it was signed by Shiv Sena MLAs Dada Bhuse and Sanjay Rathod. They both later joined the Shinde camp. How can the speaker ignore these facts? When my appointment was recognised by acting speaker Narhari Zirwal, how come the newly-appointed speaker Rahul Narvekar can intervene?" he asked.
Earlier in the day, Rahul Narvekar of the BJP was elected Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly on the first day of its special session.
Mr Narvekar, who polled 164 votes, defeated Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena candidate Rajan Salvi, who got 107 votes.
The Speaker's post was lying vacant since February last year after Nana Patole of the Congress resigned.
Going by the votes polled in the Speaker's election, it seems the numbers are stacked in favour of the Shinde-BJP government for the floor test.
The 288-member Assembly has one vacancy due to the death of Sena's Ramesh Latke.
Out of the 287 legislators, 271 voted, while three MLAs - two of SP and one belonging to AIMIM- abstained from voting.
Of the 12 absentee MLAs, Laxman Jagtap and Mukta Tilak (both BJP) are suffering from serious ailments.
Two NCP legislators - Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik- are in jail in connection with different money laundering cases. Four other NCP MLAs did not show up.
Two Congress MLAs - Praniti Shinde and Jitesh Antapurkar - also did not attend the session.
An AIMIM MLA also didn't attend the session.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)