Vajpayee wanted to fire Modi after Gujarat riots, Balasaheb saved him: Shivsena MP Arvind Sawant  

New Delhi: With the political situation in Maharashtra worsening daily, Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claiming that Sena founder Bal Thackeray had backed Modi’s decision to remain as chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots.

Sawant, a former Union minister in Modi’s cabinet, claimed in an interview with ThePrint, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has abandoned Balasaheb [Bal Thackeray] by planning the conspiracy to destroy the Shiv Sena. Balasaheb has also been deceived by the rebels.”

According to Shiv Sainiks still in the camp of party supremo and Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) orchestrated the split within the Shiv Sena that saw senior leader Eknath Shinde and the majority of the party’s MLAs defect against the leadership last week.

Sawant, the Union minister for heavy industries and public enterprises in PM Modi’s cabinet, resigned in 2019 after the dissolution of the Sena-BJP coalition.

In an interview with ThePrint, Sawant described the several instances in which the late Bal Thackeray had “stood up” for Narendra Modi and the BJP.

“Balasaheb had saved Modi’s future. After the Gujarat riots of 2002, [then-prime minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee intended to dismiss Modi as chief minister, but Balasaheb persuaded Vajpayee not to do so. The Prime Minister informed Balasaheb that [L.K.] Advani will meet with him to address a critical matter. Balasaheb’s suggestion to Advani was: ‘Agar Modi gaya, party gayi.’ [if Modi were to go, the BJP would lose Gujarat] Sawant said that Modi has not honored his relationship with Balasaheb, despite the fact that Balasaheb honored his friendship with Modi till his dying breath.

In several regions of Maharashtra, supporters of Uddhav Thackeray are marching against Shinde, defacing posters of the rebel leader, and vandalizing the offices of rebel MLAs.

Sawant said, “We cannot prohibit individuals from expressing their displeasure.” “These Sainiks worked for the election of these MLAs. How can they forgive them for conniving and trying to separate the party when Uddhav Thackeray was struggling for his life while suffering from Covid?”

“The real battle will take place on the House floor,” added Sawant. “If they want to safeguard their membership, they cannot even attend the assembly without combining with a party.” In the meanwhile, we have petitioned the Deputy Speaker to disqualify these legislators.”

Shinde’s team has moved the disqualification notifications handed to him and 15 other renegade MPs to the Supreme Court. Monday, the highest court gave them an extension until July 12 to reply to the disqualification notifications.

Shinde and at least forty dissident MLAs have been camping in Assam, which is governed by the BJP, since Wednesday.

“In 2017, [Vice President of India and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha] Venkaiah Naidu dismissed two Janata Dal (United) MPs, stating that disqualification of an MP or MLA for anti-party action and disobedience against the party whip was applicable outside the House as well. The renegade Sena MLAs are now rejecting Balasaheb’s and the party whip’s doctrine, hence their disqualification is warranted.”

‘Hostage scenario’

Sawant claims that not all MLAs in Shinde’s group are there voluntarily. They are kept as hostages.”

“Initially, they believed that the situation would be resolved within 48 hours, but their desperation is growing daily. They want to return to Maharashtra, but Shinde and the BJP police in the state would not let it. Two legislators have already fled and returned. Many more have shown interest in returning, he told ThePrint.

Sawant said that the majority of MLAs lack legal expertise. He said, “They cannot form a distinct organization of Sena members.” “Despite holding more than two-thirds of the MLAs, they claim they have not left Shiv Sena in order to escape disqualification. However, they must either unite with the BJP or any other party, or rejoin the Sena. Many of them oppose merging with the BJP.”

Modi has not appreciated Balasaheb’s friendship.

Sawant said that Bal Thackeray backed Modi not just after the Gujarat riots, but also throughout the Narmada movement in 2006.

“At the time, Balasaheb dispatched Uddhav Thackeray to support Modi,” he said.

Sawant stated that these were not isolated cases either.

“In 2008, Balasaheb prevented the BJP from losing one of its most senior leaders in Maharashtra, Gopinath Munde.” Munde decided to quit the BJP for the Shiv Sena as he felt alienated inside the party. Balasaheb had phoned Munde and urged him not to quit his parent party. He also requested that senior BJP leader Advani settle his disagreements with Munde.

Sawant said that former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel indicated interest in leaving the BJP and joining the Shiv Sena in 2001, after Modi became Gujarat chief minister. “Balasaheb also urged Keshubhai Patel to stay with the BJP at that time,” he stated. “Balasaheb sacrificed so much for the BJP, but Modi has disregarded this bond.”