Sanjay Raut Summoned By Probe Agency, "Best Wishes" Says A Key Rival

Sanjay Raut is the most senior and vocal of the few leaders in his party that have not abandoned Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray

Sanjay Raut Summoned By Probe Agency, 'Best Wishes' Says A Key Rival

Sajnay Raut last week urged the rebels to return to Mumbai for talks

New Delhi:

Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena has been summoned for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate tomorrow. The timing will reinforce the belief that the agency is being used by the central government to punish its rivals - Mr Raut is the most senior and vocal of the few leaders in his party that have not abandoned Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in the party's biggest crisis since it was founded in 1966.

"My best wishes to him," said Shrikant Shinde, minutes after the news broke of Mr Raut's questioning, a statement which only serves to underscore the BJP's co-parenting of the crisis in the Sena with Mr Shinde's father, Eknath Shinde.

A week ago, Mr Shinde (Senior) pulled out of Mumbai in the middle of the night in a luxury bus. With him were a group of about 20 MLAs. The BJP's role as designated driver was evidenced by the bus delivering its cargo to Surat with the state police providing ample escort.

It was immediately obvious that Mr Shinde had turned on the Chief Minister, who is also his party boss. Emissaries from Mr Thackeray were able to meet some of the rebels accompanying Mr Shinde. That prompted a relocation to a five-star in Guwahati in the hope that on this front at least, the Assam border would be less porous and make in-person contact with the rebels impossible for Mr Thackeray.

The roster of Mr Shinde's team added new strength virtually every day last week - he needs 37 to attempt a split of the Sena. Every day, a new batch of MLAs arrived to join Camp Shinde at Radisson Blu, where even hotel staff found it hard to access the floor where they were parked.

In a letter sent to the Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal of the Maharashtra Assembly yesterday, Mr Shinde proved the strength of 39 MLAs of the Sena. Mr Shinde has argued that Mr Thackeray, by virtue of being a minority leader, has neither rights to claim the party is in fact his, nor take decisions against those who have deserted him.

That includes Mr Thackeray moving to have 16 rebel MLAs disqualified for anti-party activities. When Mr Thackeray does not control the party, Mr Shinde has countered, how can meetings called by him, and ignored by the rebels, be grounds for penalties?

There are nine ministers who are physically lodged with Mr Shinde in Guwahati. The summons to answer questions in a case of money-laundering, at this crucial juncture, are what critics of the BJP describe as an unimaginative but effect boilerplate - destabilise an Opposition government in part by using central agencies to intimidate  its leaders.

In Maharashtra, two ministers have been arrested for alleged money-laundering. A third was questioned through all of last week, triggering talk that his arrest is imminent. Mr Raut is the fourth.

Mr Shinde and his cohort say the Sena must immediately quit its inorganic alliance with the Congress and Sharad Pawar's party; in 2019, Mr Thackeray ended a long association between the Sena and the BJP to form a government with his two new partners. Mr Raut last week urged the rebels to return to Mumbai for talks, promising that the option of quitting the government could be reviewed. That declaration came as a surprise for the Congress and Mr Pawar, who had pledged their continued support to Mr Thackeray in the midst of his week from hell.

Mr Thackeray on Wednesday evening left the Chief Minister's official residence for 'Matoshree', the bungalow from where his father, Sena founder Bal Thackeray, controlled the party for decades. Mr Thackeray's move from a government home to what is seen as the party's headquarters intended to prove that he is not wedded to remaining in office as Chief Minister and that his father's political legacy remains safely in his hands.

It was a pre-emptive strike but did not thwart Mr Shinde's team from declaring that it would seek to use Bal Thackeray's name as part of a rebranding of the Shiv Sena, one  that gives the rebel faction the rights to call itself the authentic Sena.

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