Uddhav Thackeray spoke shortly after 30 Shiv Sena MLAs declared Eknath Shinde as their leader
Uddhav Thackeray, fighting a revolt that has endangered his government in Maharashtra, said on Wednesday he is "ready to quit" anytime but stopped short of announcing his resignation as Chief Minister.
"I am ready to quit the Chief Minister's post right now. Positions come and go...But can you promise me the next Chief Minister will be from the Shiv Sena," Uddhav Thackeray said in a sharp message for Eknath Shinde, the Sena leader leading the rebel faction with the BJP hosting him in states where it rules and facilitating every move.
In an emotional address, his first since Eknath Shinde left Mumbai for Gujarat's Surat with 21 MLAs in the dead of night on Monday, the Shiv Sena chief said he was "hurt" at his own party men turning on him. Some would even say his voice was shaky, Mr Thackeray said, adding that it would be on account of Covid.
"Come to me and tell me to resign, to my face, and I'll quit as Chief Minister. The Chief Minister's position came to me accidentally - it's not something I yearn," Mr Thackeray said.
"Despite (NCP leader Sharad) Pawar Saheb's and (Congress leader) Kamal Nath's support, if my own people don't want me to be Chief Minister then what should I do? I don't know if I can call them my people because they don't see me as theirs," he said.
Perhaps reaching out to those in his party who see him as unapproachable, he announced that he could "pack his bags anytime" and leave the Chief Minister's residence Varsha for his home "Matoshree", the unofficial headquarters of the party founded by his father Bal Thackeray.
Mr Thackeray's speech was livestreamed on Facebook shortly after 30 Shiv Sena MLAs wrote to the Governor backing Eknath Shinde as their leader, shoving the ruling coalition into a more precarious spot than ever.
Thirty-four MLAs, who are at a hotel in Guwahati in BJP-ruled Assam, wrote to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari that Eknath Shinde is their leader.
The signatories to the letter include 30 Sena and four independent MLAs.
Eknath Shinde needs seven more Sena MLAs on his side to split the party without risking disqualification under the anti-defection law.
Four more MLAs have reached Guwahati this evening.
Mr Thackeray said he was "getting calls from MLAs who have gone with Eknath Shinde claiming that they were kidnapped".
Mr Shinde made significant moves on Wednesday to assert himself as the boss of the Shiv Sena, boldly challenging a Thackeray for the first time in the party. He said he would carry forward the "Hindutva" ideology of Balasaheb Thackeray, indicating that Uddhav Thackeray had allowed the whittling down of the Sena's code ideology in its partnership with the ideologically opposed NCP and Congress.
"Shiv Sena will never give up on Hindutva," Mr Thackeray declared, stung by the rebel group's charge. "Some people are saying that this is not Balasaheb's Shiv Sena. I want to ask what I have done that this is not Balasaheb's Shiv Sena."