• Mon. Oct 3rd, 2022

Sanjay Raut summoned by Probe Agency, ‘Best wishes’ says key rival

ByJanice K. Merrill

Jun 27, 2022

Last week, Sajnay Raut urged the rebels to return to Mumbai for talks

New Delhi:

Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena has been summoned for questioning by the Enforcement Branch tomorrow. The timing will reinforce the belief that the agency is being used by the central government to punish rivals – Mr Raut is the oldest and most vocal of the few leaders in his party who have not abandoned Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in the biggest crisis of the party since it was founded in 1966.

“My best wishes to him,” Shrikant Shinde said, minutes after news broke of Mr Raut’s questioning, a statement that only underlined the BJP’s co-parenting of the Sena crisis with Mr Raut’s father. Shinde, Eknath Shinde.

A week ago, Mr. Shinde (Senior) left Mumbai in the middle of the night in a luxury bus. He was accompanied by a group of about 20 deputies. The BJP’s role as the designated driver was highlighted by the bus delivering its cargo to Surat with state police providing a wide escort.

It was immediately apparent that Mr Shinde had turned on the chief minister, who is also the leader of his party. Emissaries of Mr. Thackeray were able to meet some of the rebels accompanying Mr. Shinde. This prompted a move to a five-star hotel in Guwahati in the hope that on that front at least the Assam border would be less porous and make face-to-face contact with the rebels impossible for Mr Thackeray.

Mr Shinde’s squad roster has added new forces virtually every day over the past week – he needs 37 to attempt a Sena split. Every day a new group of MPs arrived to join Camp Shinde at the Radisson Blu, where even hotel staff struggled to get to the floor where they were parked.

In a letter sent yesterday to Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal of the Maharashtra Assembly, Mr Shinde proved the strength of 39 Sena MPs. Mr Shinde argued that Mr Thackeray, as a leader of a minority, has neither the right to claim the party is in fact his, nor to make decisions against those who have left him.

This includes Mr Thackeray’s decision to disqualify 16 rebel MPs for anti-party activities. Since Mr. Thackeray does not control the party, Mr. Shinde replied, how can meetings called by him, and ignored by the rebels, give rise to sanctions?

There are nine ministers who are physically housed with Mr. Shinde in Guwahati. Summonses to answer questions in a money laundering case, at this crucial juncture, are what BJP critics describe as an unimaginative but effective boilerplate – to destabilize an opposition government in part by using central agencies to intimidate its leaders.

In Maharashtra, two ministers have been arrested for alleged money laundering. A third has been questioned throughout the past week, sparking rumors that his arrest is imminent. Mr. Raut is the fourth.

Mr. Shinde and his cohorts say the Sena must immediately leave its inorganic alliance with the Congress and the party of Sharad Pawar; in 2019, Mr Thackeray ended a long association between the Sena and the BJP to form a government with his two new partners. Last week Mr Raut urged the rebels to return to Mumbai for talks, promising the option of leaving the government could be reconsidered. The statement came as a surprise to Congress and Mr. Pawar, who had pledged their continued support for Mr. Thackeray amid his hellish week.

Mr Thackeray left the chief minister’s official residence on Wednesday night for “Matoshree”, the bungalow from where his father, Sena founder Bal Thackeray, controlled the party for decades. Mr Thackeray’s move from a government seat to what is seen as party headquarters was intended to prove that he is not keen on staying on as chief minister and that the political legacy of his father remains safely in his hands.

It was a pre-emptive strike but did not stop Mr Shinde’s team from saying they would seek to use the Bal Thackeray name as part of a rebranding of the Shiv Sena, which gives the rebel faction the right to call themselves the authentic Sena.