India's Maharashtra state has new government after Shiv Sena party revolt

Eknath Shinde sworn in as chief minister, with BJP politician Devendra Fadnavis as deputy

Shiv Sena party leader and chief minister of Maharashtra Eknath Shinde (L) looks on as BJP leader and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis speaks in Mumbai. AFP
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Eknath Shinde was sworn in as chief minister of India’s Maharashtra state on Thursday after leading a revolt in the Shiv Sena party that forced its leader Uddhav Thackeray to step down as head of the state government.

Mr Shinde, 58, and 40 party legislators rebelled against Mr Thackeray after accusing him of veering away from the party's main plank of Hindu nationalism, or "Hindutva".

Devendra Fadnavis, a member of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was sworn in as deputy chief minister.

Mr Fadnavis, 51, was Maharashtra chief minister from 2014 and 2019. He was sworn in for a second term in 2019 but stepped down after three days when his coalition government was unable to show majority support in the state assembly.

Mr Fadnavis had said he would not be part of Mr Shinde's government but an hour later, senior BJP leader Amit Shah, the federal Home Minister, announced on Twitter that he would join the government "in the interest of the state of Maharashtra and the people".

The Shiv Sena, a right-wing, Hindu nationalist party, was formed by Mr Thackeray’s father, Bal Thackeray, in 1966.

Critics regularly characterise the party's views as extremist and fascist.

Mr Shinde was upset with Mr Thackeray for forming a coalition government with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, both secular organisations, in 2019.

“We were not being selfish," Mr Shinde told reporters before being sworn in. "We rebelled not because of any greed of position — most of the legislators were ministers — but to push forward the ideology of Hindutva ... the ideology of Balasaheb Thackeray.”

For more than a week, he had shepherded a group of 40 rebel politicians across several states in a bid to force Mr Thackeray to reunite with the BJP, with which the Shiv Sena had had an alliance since 1984.

The parties contested the 2019 state election together but fell out over the question of the chief minister's post. The BJP won 105 seats, while the Shiv Sena gained the second-largest share of seats, with 56.

Mr Thackeray demanded a rotational chief ministership. The BJP refused, prompting him to pull out of the coalition and enter into an alliance with the Congress and NCP and become chief minister.

He stepped down on Thursday after Mr Shinde's rebellion left him with the backing of only about a dozen Shiv Sena politicians.

His resignation sparked criticism of the political instability in the state and an outpouring of support on social media for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Maharashtra has been one of India's worst-hit states over the past two years of the pandemic.

The political upheaval in Maharashtra is the latest incident of defection in Indian state politics over the past few years, despite a law passed in 1985 to dissuade politicians from changing sides.

Ten legislators in Goa's state assembly defected from the Congress to the BJP in 2019, two years after state elections in which the Congress became the largest party with 17 seats in the 40-member chamber. Those defections gave the BJP, which won 13 seats, a majority in the house.

The same year, 16 legislators in neighbouring Karnataka state left a coalition government of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) to join the BJP, which later formed a government.

In central Madhya Pradesh state, 22 Congress politicians rebelled against the then-chief minister Kamal Nath in 2020 and later joined BJP, helping the party to form the government in the state.

Experts have often blamed the loopholes in the anti-defection law, such as the power given to parliamentary speakers, who are usually aligned with the ruling party, to have the final word in such matters.

The law allows politicians to change sides if the number of defectors amounts to two thirds of the party's strength in the legislature.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 7:42 AM