Maharashtra’s 2022 Political Crisis: BJP-backed Shinde’s rebellion and the fall of the Thackeray government

The seeds of the 2022 Maharashtra political crisis were sown in the 2019 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections. The BJP and Shiv Sena (SHS) had contested the election jointly under the alliance Mahayuti, while the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) formed the Maha Aghadi alliance.

In June 2022, the state of Maharashtra witnessed a political upheaval that dramatically altered its governance and reshaped the dynamics of its key political parties. The crisis began on June 21, 2022, when Eknath Shinde, along with several other MLAs from the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, moved to Surat in BJP-governed Gujarat, igniting a political firestorm that would culminate in a change of leadership and a Supreme Court verdict on the legality of the actions taken by various political actors.

The Beginning of the Crisis

The seeds of the 2022 Maharashtra political crisis were sown in the 2019 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections. The BJP and Shiv Sena (SHS) had contested the election jointly under the alliance Mahayuti, while the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) formed the Maha Aghadi alliance.

The election results saw BJP winning 105 seats, SHS 56, NCP 54, and INC 44. Despite the pre-poll alliance between BJP and Shiv Sena, post-election differences on power-sharing, particularly the Chief Minister’s position, led to a fallout. Shiv Sena demanded an equal share of power, including the Chief Minister’s post for 2.5 years, which the BJP denied.

This disagreement resulted in the end of their alliance, pushing Shiv Sena to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) with INC and NCP, appointing Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister.

Eknath Shinde, a senior Shiv Sena leader and then Maharashtra Public Works Department Minister, had consistently advocated for re-establishing the BJP-Sena coalition, believing that the alliance with INC and NCP was untenable. When his requests to Uddhav Thackeray to break the alliance were ignored, Shinde began to gather support within the party. By June 2022, the rift had widened, and on June 21, Shinde, along with several MLAs, moved to Surat, Gujarat, a state governed by BJP, signifying the start of the crisis.

The group later moved to Guwahati, Assam, another BJP-governed state, indicating a well-coordinated move possibly supported by BJP. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut accused the BJP of orchestrating the revolt to topple the MVA government, a claim later subtly supported by remarks from BJP’s Sushil Modi.

The Political Manoeuvrings

Shinde’s rebellion was a calculated move. He needed the support of at least 37 MLAs (two-thirds of the total Shiv Sena strength of 55) to avoid disqualification under India’s anti-defection law. By June 22, Shinde claimed to have moved 40 legislators to Guwahati. The rebels demanded that Shiv Sena withdraw from the MVA and renew its alliance with BJP, a demand that Uddhav Thackeray steadfastly refused.

After moving to Surat and then Guwahati, Shinde’s group declared him the leader of the Shiv Sena legislature party on June 23. The Thackeray faction responded by filing petitions to disqualify the rebel MLAs and replace Shinde as the party whip. Shinde then moved to the Supreme Court to dispute these actions.

The court directed the Deputy Speaker to postpone the disqualification hearing, giving Shinde time to consolidate his position. On June 28, Fadnavis’s meeting with Governor Koshyari and the subsequent trust vote order by the governor set the stage for Thackeray’s resignation.

On June 28, Devendra Fadnavis, former BJP Chief Minister of Maharashtra, met with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, demanding a no-confidence motion against Thackeray. The governor ordered a trust vote to be held by June 30. However, the Supreme Court, in a late-night hearing on June 29, refused to stay the governor’s order, prompting Thackeray to resign from his position as Chief Minister and as a Member of the Legislative Council.

On June 30, Eknath Shinde, supported by the BJP, staked his claim to form the government. In a surprising twist, Devendra Fadnavis announced that the BJP would support Shinde from outside the government but would not join it. However, BJP President JP Nadda later requested Fadnavis to take the position of Deputy Chief Minister, which he accepted. Shinde and Fadnavis were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, respectively, on June 30.

Shinde’s faction then sought to claim the Shiv Sena party name and its iconic bow and arrow symbol, leading to legal battles with the Thackeray faction. On February 17, 2023, the Election Commission of India allotted the name Shiv Sena and the party symbol to Shinde’s faction, marking the official conclusion of the political crisis and establishing Shinde as the leader of Shiv Sena.

The Supreme Court Verdict

On May 11, 2023, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the crisis. The court termed the actions of then-Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar as illegal, stating that the governor had called for a floor test without any communication from the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs about their withdrawal of support from the Thackeray government. The court also noted that the Shinde faction could not be labelled as a “split” under the anti-defection law and was liable for disqualification.

However, the court stated that it could not reinstate the Uddhav Thackeray government since Thackeray had resigned without facing the floor test. This ruling highlighted the complexities and procedural missteps that had occurred during the crisis but ultimately could not reverse the political outcome due to Thackeray’s resignation.

Background: The 2019 Political Crisis

The 2019 political crisis in Maharashtra set the stage for the events of 2022. After the assembly elections, the BJP and Shiv Sena, despite being long-term allies, failed to agree on power-sharing, leading to a political deadlock. Shiv Sena’s demand for an equal share of power, including the Chief Minister’s post for half the term, was rejected by the BJP. This impasse led to Shiv Sena forming the MVA alliance with NCP and INC, resulting in Uddhav Thackeray becoming the Chief Minister.

The MVA government, however, was always under strain due to the ideological differences between Shiv Sena and its new allies. Eknath Shinde’s repeated requests to Thackeray to break the alliance and return to the BJP fold were ignored, leading to growing dissent within Shiv Sena.

Tensions within the MVA became evident during the Rajya Sabha and Maharashtra Legislative Council elections in June 2022. BJP’s unexpected victories, attributed to cross-voting by several Shiv Sena members, highlighted the growing rift within the party. This internal dissent culminated in Shinde’s rebellion.

Formation of the New Government

With Thackeray’s resignation on June 29, Shinde, backed by the BJP, swiftly moved to form a new government. Shinde and Fadnavis’s swearing-in on June 30 marked the beginning of a new political chapter in Maharashtra. BJP’s strategic support and eventual inclusion in the government as Deputy Chief Minister underscored the party’s influential role in the crisis.

The party split into two factions: Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena, led by Shinde, and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), led by Thackeray. Shinde filed a petition with the Election Commission of India (ECI), staking his claim to the ‘Shiv Sena’ name and the Bow and Arrow symbol. The ECI ruled in favour of Shinde’s faction, basing its decision on the strength of his legislative support rather than the organizational wing. Thackeray has appealed against this decision, and the case is pending in the Supreme Court.

2024 Lok Sabha Elections

In the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena is fielding candidates in Mumbai South, Mumbai North West, and Mumbai South Central. The BJP is contesting seats in Mumbai North, Mumbai North Central, and Mumbai North East. Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, collaborating with the Maha Vikas Aghadi, is presenting candidates in Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central, Mumbai North East, and Mumbai North West. The Congress is competing in Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North.

In the elections on May 20, 2024, all constituencies in Mumbai will participate, showcasing the ongoing rivalry between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—which includes the BJP, Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde faction), NCP (Sunil Tatkare faction), and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha—and the INDIA alliance, comprising the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction), Congress, and NCP. The electoral dynamics in Mumbai are intricate, shaped by longstanding loyalties, shifting alliances, and the evolving political ambitions of its diverse populace.