Sanjay Raut has claimed that his remark was not intended as a warning but as a flowery analogy.
Within the wildly prodigious conflict that has ravaged the Shiv Sena, this tracks high. The rebels among the party, who number at least 39, have accused Sanjay Raut, a party leader, of baring a death threat publicly.
“Forty bodies will come from Assam, and will be sent straight to the morgue for post-mortem,” Mr Raut told Sena workers yesterday in a speech intended to enthuse them. In far away Guwahati, where the rebels have coalesced, the statement evoked allegations of a death threat.
In the Supreme Court today, the rebels who have elected Eknath Shinde as their chief, said Mr Raut was attempting to incite violence against them. The houses of some of the MLAs who left Mumbai last week for Camp Shinde were attacked over the weekend by Sena workers. The central government yesterday said it would provide cover to the families of those participating in the revolt against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. In court today, the Maharashtra government however said it would ensure the safety of all ministers and MLAs in the state.
Mr Raut has claimed that his remark was not intended as a warning but as a flowery analogy. "We have learnt whom to trust now, these are bodies whose souls have died. 40 bodies will come to Assam," is not a threat, he claimed.
Reckless rhetoric, said Mr Shinde's son, Shrikant, who is an MP. "The state is watching the manner in which he is passing comments. This happens when one realises that power is slipping out of hand," he offered as a theory. "This is a good input for a Bollywood movie."
Mr Raut has been serving as the chief spokesperson of Uddhav Thackeray since the revolt busted out in the Sena a week ago. Mr Shinde, late at night, moved out of Mumbai on a bus with about 20 other MLAs as his co-passengers. Their first pit stop was Surat, where they spent the night at a five-star hotel. That the new boundaries were being set by the BJP was underscored when Mr Shinde and his coterie were flown to Guwahati to another hotel. Two states, both governed by the BJP, provided a generous support system, with Guwahati still hosting the MLAs - now, 39 in number and with nine ministers among them.
Mr Raut was ordered this morning to appear tomorrow for questioning in a money-laundering case. "Best wishes to him," said Mr Shinde's son. The Enforcement Directorate, critics of the government say, is being methodically used by the central government to round up rivals. That proposition gains weight with the timing - as also the fact - of the summons to Mr Raut, placed as he is at the centre of the attempt to withstand the collapse of the Opposition government in Maharashtra.
The rebels have been vocal in their demand for the Sena to end its three-year-long alliance with the Congress and Sharad Pawar, and revive an earlier, lengthy partnership with the BJP, who, they say, is ideologically compatible with the founding principles of the Sena.
In the Supreme Court, the rebels today claimed controlling stake of the party. Mr Thackeray's team, sparse in comparison, had asked for a section of the rebels to be disqualified. The court has refused that, allowing till July 12 for a response from Mr Shinde and his lot.
Deepak Kesarkar, one of the rebels, told NDTV today that the Guwahati faction will return to Maharashtra soon enough. "In each of our constituencies,' he said to NDTV, "Sharad Pawar would appear to campaign and state that the next MLA from the area would be from the NCP (his party)." The Sena's allies, the rebels hold, were working at cross-purposes, and Mr Thackeray was both inattentive and unresponsive to their repeated efforts to point this out.