Eknath Shinde said he has 50 MLAs with him
Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde said today he would go to Mumbai "soon" and "take Balasaheb Thackeray's legacy forward", indicating that he is ready to launch his next play and challenge Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to a test of strength.
"I have 50 people with me in Guwahati, they have come of their own accord and for Hindutva. We all will go to Mumbai soon," Mr Shinde told reporters, stepping out of the luxury hotel in Guwahati where he and other rebels have been staying since Wednesday last.
He also said he would speak to Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.
Mr Shinde, reports suggest, may fly to Mumbai or Delhi this evening for consultations with the BJP, which was the main enabler of the staggering revolt that has seen Uddhav Thackeray lose most of his party MLAs to the rival camp.
The BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, a former Maharashtra Chief Minister, is in Delhi, sources say.
Mr Shinde had been flown by chartered plane from Guwahati to Gujarat's Vadodara after midnight last Friday for a meeting with Mr Fadnavis and BJP's top strategist, Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
"I am not leaving the Shiv Sena. I am the real Shiv Sena," Mr Shinde told reporters, rubbishing the claims of team Thackeray that some 15-20 MLAs were in touch with them and wanted to return to Mumbai.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court gave Mr Shinde and 15 rebels time till July 12 to respond to notices to disqualify them. The rebels cannot be disqualified till then.
Sources suggest Mr Shinde and the rebels may be inclined to move for a no-confidence motion in the Maharashtra assembly before the court's deadline.
The Supreme Court refused to pass orders on Team Thackeray's request that no floor test be allowed till July 12. "If anything illegal happens, you can always move this court," it said.
Sources say the Maharashtra Governor may ask Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove his majority sometime this week.
Mr Shinde reportedly consulted lawyers to discuss the possibility of a floor test in the Maharashtra assembly.
BJP leaders reportedly met at Devendra Fadnavis's home in Mumbai to discuss the arithmetic required to form a government in a tie-up with the Shinde Sena faction. "We are open to the proposal of government formation from Eknath Shinde," said party leader Sudhir Mungantiwar.
The Shiv Sena has accused the BJP of masterminding the revolt to take power in Maharashtra and hounding its leaders using investigating agencies. Uddhav Thackeray's key spokesperson, Sanjay Raut, was summoned today by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case but he refused to go. Mr Raut terms the summons a conspiracy.