India, the world’s
largest democracy, has been facing accusations of turning into a one-party
state dominated by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the last
seven years. In all this time, one critical challenge in front of India’s electorate
has been the absence of a cohesive opposition that can battle the electoral might
of the BJP. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), a rag-tag coalition of political
parties on the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, was perhaps the only
successful experiment. Now, even that is at risk.

Leading the effort
to sink the Opposition ship, is Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde. Minister of
urban development in the MVA government, Shinde has been associated with the
Shiv Sena since the 1980s. The 58-year-old was vastly influenced by Shiv Sena
founder Balasaheb Thackeray. But now, when the reins of the party are with
Balasaheb’s son Uddhav, Shinde feels more drawn to the cause of Hindutva
espoused by the BJP.

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Eknath Shinde is
reported to have moved to a hotel
in Gujarat’s Surat, Prime Minister Narendra
Modi’s home state and one ruled by the BJP, along with 21 other MLAs. If he and
the MLAs go to the BJP, the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance government will
fall, paving the way for BJP to return to power.

The numbers

The Maharashtra
legislative assembly has 288 members. With one legislator having died (Ramesh
Latke, Shiv Sena), to total strength currently stands at 287. As such, the
majority mark is at 144 in case a no-confidence motion is triggered.

Right now, the
Maha Vikas Aghadi has 152 MLAs and the BJP has 106. If 22 MLA’s leave the
coalition, there is a possibility of the government falling. However, the MLA’s
who defect will have to return as MLA’s in bypolls.

What is
Shinde’s motivation?

Eknath Shinde is
said to have felt side-lined within the MVA government. On Tuesday, Shinde
said, “I am with Hindutva and Shiv Sena has left Hindutva. I will not return to
Shiv Sena.” Shinde’s comment is in line with the BJP’s narrative that the Shiv
Sena has given up on its commitment to the cause of Hindutva under the
leadership of Uddhav Thackeray and has made an ideological compromise by
striking a deal with the Congress.

MVA leaders,
however, feel that Shinde’s move to take MLAs to a hotel in Surat is a well-crafted
move orchestrated by the BJP. Nitin Raut of the Congress, who is a minister in
the MVA government, said it was a pattern with the BJP to try and topple opposition
governments as part of its ‘Operation Kamal’.

Meanwhile, Sanjay
Raut, one of Shiv Sena’s most visible national faces and the editor of party
newspaper ‘Saamna’ said Eknath Shinde is an old friend. “He (Eknath Shinde) is
our old friend. Everyone knows why we left BJP and Eknath Shinde is also a
witness to that,” Raut said.