"Eknath Shinde's Son An MP, Yet My Son Is Targeted": Uddhav Thackeray

Uddhav Thackeray, addressing party leaders virtually, said people who had declared they would die before leaving the Shiv Sena had run away.

Crisis in Maharashtra erupted after party legislators joined a rebellion led by Eknath Shinde. (File)


Uddhav Thackeray, reduced to a minority in his own party by a stunning revolt by his minister, said today the Shiv Sena rebels are "trying to break the party" and that he did not feel bad about those who had left as they were like "the diseased fruits and flowers" of a tree that had to be removed.

The Maharashtra Chief Minister, addressing a group of party leaders virtually as he has Covid, said those who had always declared they would rather die than leave the Shiv Sena had "run away".

"You may take away the fruits and flowers of a tree. But as long as the roots are strong, I need not worry. The roots can never be removed. Every season, new leaves and fruits blossom. But leaves blighted by disease need to be removed and thrown. Consider the present situation in this context," Mr Thackeray said.

The Sena chief and his son Aaditya Thackeray met with the Shiv Sena's district heads this afternoon as they looked completely outnumbered and outmaneuvered by rebel Eknath Shinde, who has gained the support of more than 40 MLAs. Aaditya Thackeray attended the meeting in person and was greeted by a crowd of party workers who lashed out at the rebels currently in Assam, raised slogans in support of Uddhav Thackeray and even wept.

Eknath Shinde, along with his expanding group of rebels, has been staying at a five-star hotel in Guwahati and sources say he expects the headcount to cross 50 over the weekend. Mr Shinde had been upset for some time, say sources, and one of the reasons was Aaditya Thackeray's rise as virtual number two in the party.

"I did everything for Eknath Shinde. I gave him the department I held. Your son (Shrikant Shinde) can be an MP, shouldn't Aaditya also grow politically," Mr Thackeray said.

"You should keep the Thackeray name out of your politics and see if you can survive. You can never detach the Thackerays from the Shiv Sena."

This is Mr Thackeray's second emotional speech since Wednesday, when he had stopped short of resigning but had offered to resign if even a single MLA said it to his face. He also quit the Chief Minister's official residence. "I have left Varsha Bungalow but not the will to fight," he said.

Since his appeal, more and more MLAs have been flying to Assam to join the rebels. Mr Thackeray said he would not stop anyone from joining the rebels.

"Think we are starting from scratch. If you feel you have better prospects with the rebels, you can leave. I will not stop you. The (rebel) MLAs (camping) in Guwahati are prisoners. We have to see how we can bring them back," the Chief Minister said.

He again offered to quit as Shiv Sena president if "Shiv Sainiks" felt he was incapable of running the organisation.

"I am not blackmailing you. If you feel I am incompetent, I am ready to quit (as Sena president). The Chief Minister's post is inconsequential to me," he said amid slogans in his support.

Mr Thackeray said for his father Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena founder who ran the party for decades, the party was more dear to him than his son. "If I am incapable of running the party, even Balasaheb wouldn't have forgiven me," he said.

He said in the last two years, he battled his own ill health and also presided over Maharashtra's Covid fight.

"My body was aching, from my head and neck to my feet. Some people thought I would not recover...My eyes were not opening, but I didn't care about myself. I am not into power games," he remarked, wiping his eyes.

Mr Shinde has enough MLAs - he needs 37 but has more than 40 - to split the party and claim leadership of the "real Shiv Sena".

Hosted by the BJP, first in Gujarat and then in Assam, Mr Shinde is widely expected to collaborate with the Sena's oldest alliance partner and make a bid for power in Maharashtra.