Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi on Friday hit back at rebel leader Eknath Shinde's claim that the party was diverging from its ideology of Hindutva. "Which Hindutva teaches you to stab your party, which is like a family, in the back?" she said, speaking to NDTV, asserting that ideology is being used as an alibi for the "BJP-backed" rebellion.
Eknath Shinde has said the Sena's alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress in Maharashtra is "unnatural", and that it should restore its pact with the BJP. Meanwhile, the rebellion against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is growing stronger with latest developments suggesting that Mr Shinde has the critical number of MLAs, 37, required to split the party in the assembly without falling foul of the anti-defection law.
Ms Chaturvedi said ideology is not the cause of Mr Shinde's actions: "He was given the second most important ministry, Urban Development, which usually the Chief Minister keeps with himself. His son is a member of Parliament."
She also claimed that not all of those who appear to be with Mr Shinde will "stand against scrutiny". "We are constantly in touch with them; and they are in touch with us."
Ms Chaturvedi was asked whether sections of the party were dissatisfied by the relatively progressive, softer image being projected, in particular by the Chief Minister's son, Aaditya Thackeray. "Every party goes through churning, depending on which way the political narrative is shifting in the state... The BJP, too, is different from what it was during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's times," she said.
On party MP Sanjay Raut's earlier statement that the Sena could consider breaking up the alliance with Congress and NCP if the rebels returned, Ms Chaturvedi explained, "That statement was thrown as challenge, that, instead of speaking to us from Guwahati, they should come to Mumbai and face us... This was a challenge that exposed them further."
But is such a breakup still a possibility, she was asked. "A decision on the alliance cannot be forced upon us. We asked them to come and speak... it is too late for that now."
Asked when a floor test is likely in the assembly, Ms Chaturvedi said, "We will ask the speaker, deputy speaker, governor to first ask those MLAs to return. They cannot work from Guwahati hotel."
She rejected suggestions that Uddhav Thackeray might have made some mistakes that caused the rebellion. Accusing the Centre's ruling BJP of being behind it, she said, "If there were issues, we could have sat across the table. Their letters now are being drafted by the BJP. Eknath Shinde has already said a 'superpower party' is supporting them." On criticism that the chief minister has been inaccessible, Ms Chaturvedi cited the Covid lockdown and his illness.
She also addressed speculation that the Shinde camp could claim to be the real Shiv Sena, saying that rebels would have to have two-thirds of "all elected representatives of the party" with them. To a specific question about the assembly arithmetic, she said, "Let me remind you - let's say they have the number - they will be disqualified unless they merge. They will have to merge with BJP."
On Uddhav Thackeray possibly having missed signs of the rebellion, she said that a person "most trusted" (Eknath Shinde) cannot be expected to do such a thing.
"Balasaheb was a person who maintained his words," she added, referring to Uddhav Thackeray's father and the party's founder, Bal Thackeray. "He stood by what he spoke. This (rebellion) is now Balasaheb's Hindutva."