Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut -- the closest aide of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who is back-to-the-wall trying to save his party and the Maharashtra government -- today lashed out at the rebels holed up with Eknath Shinde in Guwahati. "The one who betrays Balasaheb is finished… From now on, we have to decide who to trust," he said in Mumbai today, declaring that he "doesn't consider this a crisis".
"When I see the photos, Radisson Blu doesn't look like a hotel, it seems like the Bigg Boss house. People are drinking, eating, playing. And half of them will be eliminated… Till when will you hide in Guwahati, you will have to come back to Chowpatty," he said, hitting an aggressive note.
Talking of the 40-plus Sena MLAs camping out in Guwahati, he said they are like "living corpses".
"Only their bodies will come back here, there soul will be dead. When these 40 people step out here, they won't be alive at heart. They know what can happen in the fire that has been lit here.," he added.
Then, invoking Maharashtra's "son of the soil"sentiment, on which the Sena was established by Balasahed Thackeray nearly 70 years ago, he said, "This is Shiv Sena, and it has only one father. And you cannot steal a father. They want to split Maharashtra into three parts. We will not let that happen".
Mr Raut's earlier remarks -- that the MLAs, when they come back to Maharashtra for a floor test, "will find it difficult to return and move around" -- had caused uproar in the rebel camp.
Mr Shinde had tweeted a letter addressed to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil. Signed by 16 MLAs, the letter pointed out that it was job of the government to ensure security of the MLAs.
In the letter, the rebel chief had complained about various leaders of the alliance "instigating cadres to take up violence to further intimidate".
This, he added, was evident from media reports where "Mr Sanjay Raut threatened the Petitioners and the other members by stating that he would make it difficult for the MLAS who have left to return to Maharashtra and move around in the State of Maharashtra".
This morning, Mr Raut responded with a tweet.
"How long will you hide in Guwahati? You will have to come back to Chowpatty," read his post, accompanied by an image of Maharashtra Assembly Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal, who has served notices to 16 rebel MLAs on the Shiv Sena's disqualification appeal.
The Bal Thackeray camp has claimed that at least 20 MLAs camping with Mr Shinde are reportedly in touch with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Sources have told NDTV that some of the rebels are against a merger with the BJP.
But late this afternoon, Uday Sawant became the ninth Maharashtra minister to join the rebel camp. The rebels claim they have a two-thirds majority, that would enable them to split the party in the assembly without invoking the disqualification laws – which has been challenged by the Sena.