Trouble continues to brew for Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra. After legislators, his faction of the Shiv Sena could see a revolt by party members of Parliament (MPs). A day after a Shiv Sena MP requested the party chief to back the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu, a rebel MLA claimed on Wednesday that 12 out 18 MPs would join the Eknath Shinde-led camp.

Talking to reporters in his constituency in Jalgaon district, Gulabrao Patil, a minister in the previous Thackeray-led Maharashtra government, said, “We (the Shinde camp) have 40 out of 55 MLAs with us, and 12 out of 18 MPs are coming with us. So who does the party belong to? I have met four MPs personally. We also have 22 former MLAs with us,” he said.

On Tuesday, Shiv Sena’s Lok Sabha member Rahul Shewale urged Thackeray to ask party MPs to support Murmu, considering her tribal roots and contribution to the social sector, reports news agency PTI.

Is Team Thackeray losing more support? What’s going on? We take a look.

The appointment of the new chief whip

With the fight now reaching the Lok Sabha, the Thackeray Sena, now reduced to a minority in the Maharashtra Assembly, has appointed a new chief whip in the lower house. Senior party leader Sanjay Raut wrote a letter to the Lok Sabha speaker informing him that Ranjan Vichare would replace Bhawna Gawli as the party’s new chief whip.

Amid the crisis triggered by Shinde, Gawli was one of the MPs who suggested that the Shiv Sena should join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a key demand of the rebel camp.

The significance of the move

The appointment of a new chief whip is seen as a cautionary step taken by the Thackeray camp with the growing fear of a rebellion among the MPs.

Like Shinde, Vichare is a leader from Thane and is also mentored by the deceased Sena leader Anand Dighe. It’s an indication that Thackeray is ready for a fight, not bogged down by the fact that his support is dwindling.

Shinde and Vichare have in the past competed for prominence in the party. But after Shinde’s rise in the Maha Vikas Aghadi over the last few years, Vichare developed a cordial relationship with him, reports News18.com.

The role of a chief whip is to ensure that members toe the party line.

Ahead of the election of the Speaker and the trust vote in the Maharashtra Assembly, both the factions had issued whips to party members. The validity of the whips is now being contested by each other.

The chief whip of the Shinde faction on Monday issued notices for disqualification of Sena legislators who defied the party directive during the trust vote.

The concern of Sena MPs

The Shiv Sena has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha and three in the Rajya Sabha.

So far, 18 Shiv Sena MPs are backing Uddhav Thackeray. The only exception is Shinde’s son Shrikant, who is an MP from Kalyan. However, the numbers may change, as the Shinde camp is in touch with the MPs.

The lawmakers are well aware that without the support of the MLAs from their constituencies winning the next election would be an uphill task. Each Lok Sabha constituency has six Assembly segments, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Like the MLAs, the MPs are not pleased that Uddhav Thackeray has compromised on the Hindutva ideology by allying with the Congress and the NCP, which many Sainiks believe is an unnatural coalition.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Shiv Sena was in alliance with the BJP and the Modi wave worked in their favour. However, Sena MPs are said to be unsure if they stand a chance against the BJP-Shinde combine in the 2024 general elections.

It remains to be seen how long the MPs stick by Thackeray, with the rebel camp now in power and enjoying the support of the BJP.

Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde has also hinted at more rebellions in Team Thackeray. “There are countless unhappy members representing Parliament, zilla parishads, corporations, gram panchayats, who will take drastic decisions soon,” he said, according to The Indian Express.

The presidential polls

Some Sena MPs are already urging Thackeray to support Murmu. The presidential polls on 18 July will be a crucial indicator of where the MPs and 15 MLAs in the Thackeray camp stand.

The ‘real’ Sena?

According to Shinde, his faction is the real Shiv Sena since he has a two-thirds majority. He made the claim first in the Supreme Court, saying that Uddhav Thackeray was the leader of a “hopeless minority” trying to cling to power.

He is yet to approach the Election Commission, which alone can decide on the matter. Team Thackeray has written to the EC to retain the party’s name and symbol.

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