Indicating a shift in stand, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Thursday said his party is open to consider quitting Maharashtra's ruling alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) if the rebel MLAs camping in Assam return and discuss their grievances with CM Uddhav Thackeray, while coalition allies Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress vowed support to the beleaguered governing bloc and asserted its majority can only be determined in the assembly and not outside.
The three-day-old political crisis, which erupted following rebellion by influential Shiv Sena minister Eknath Shinde, showed no signs of abating as another day of hectic activities spanning Mumbai, Surat and faraway Guwahati passed.
Shinde is camping in Guwahati with rebel MLAs.
A day after Thackeray made an emotional appeal to rebel MLAs of his party and offered to resign in a bid to placate them, his trusted aide Raut indicated the Shiv Sena is ready to consider leaving the MVA headed by it, a demand put forward by Shinde who has dubbed the three-party bloc as an 'unnatural' alliance.
"You say you are real Shiv Sainiks and will not quit the party. We are ready to consider your demand provided you come back to Mumbai within 24 hours and discuss the issue with CM Uddhav Thackeray.
"Your demand will be considered positively. Don't write letters on Twitter and WhatsApp," Raut, who is the party's chief spokesperson, told reporters in Mumbai.
"The rebels who are out of Mumbai have raised the issue of Hindutva. If all these MLAs feel that Shiv Sena should walk out of the MVA, show guts to come back to Mumbai. You say you have issues only with the government and also say that you are true Shiv Sainiks...Your demand will be considered. But come and talk with Uddhav Thackeray," Raut added.
In a tweet in Marathi later, Raut extended an olive branch to dissenters.
'Why wander aimlessly. The doors are open and issues can be resolved amicably through talks. Let's take a decision with self-respect instead of accepting slavery,' the Rajya Sabha MP said.
Raut's comments that the Shiv Sena was open to quitting the party-led MVA created a flutter as the NCP and the Congress moved quickly and sought to downplay the remarks and declared support to the alliance.
Asked about Raut's comments, NCP president Sharad Pawar said they were made to persuade dissident MLAs to come back to Mumbai from Guwahati and put forward their grievances before the party leadership.
Addressing a press conference, Sharad Pawar said the fate of the MVA government will be decided on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, where the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition will prove its majority in a trust vote.
"The fate of the MVA government will be decided in the Assembly, not in Guwahati (where the rebels are camping). The MVA will prove its majority on the floor of the House," Pawar said.
He was replying to a question whether the MVA has been reduced a minority as the Shinde-led rebel faction has claimed the support of 37 Shiv Sena MLAs and ten Independent legislators.
Asked about deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar's statement that he did not see the Bharatiya Janata Party's role in the rebellion within the Sena, Sharad Pawar said he did not agree with his nephew.
Speaking separately, Ajit Pawar said the NCP, the second largest MVA constituent, will do all it can to save the ruling alliance and backed Chief Minister Thackeray, whose government has been pushed to the bank of collapse following the rebellion, to the hilt.
The Congress, too, came out in support of the Shiv Sena-led alliance, which came to power in November 2019.
Maharashtra PWD minister Ashok Chavan of the Congress said his party's support to the MVA will continue and asserted that the state Assembly, and not hotels, was the appropriate place to decide if a government was in a majority or minority.
"We (the Congress) formed the MVA with the Shiv Sena and the NCP to stop the BJP (from coming to power). Our support to the MVA continues," Chavan told reporters after a meeting of Congress leaders.
Asked whether the MVA was ready for a floor test, Chavan said a decision in this regard will have to be taken by the three allies who constitute the ruling alliance.
In faraway Guwahati, rebel legislators named Shinde as their group leader and authorized him to take further decisions on their behalf.
A video of Shinde addressing rebel Sena legislators at a Guwahati hotel was released by his office in Mumbai and it showed the cabinet minister saying a 'national party' has termed their revolt as 'historic' and assured to provide all help to them.
In the video, Shinde is seen saying, "Our worries and happiness are the same. We are united and victory will be ours.
There is a national party, a 'mahashakti'...you know they vanquished Pakistan. That party has said that we have taken a historic decision and assured to provide all help."
In a related development, six MLAs and an MLC from Maharashtrea arrived in Gujarat's Surat city on Thursday and were later flown to Guwahati in two chartered flights, sources said.
As per passenger details accessed by the media, Shiv Sena MLC Ravindra Phatak along with Shiv Sena MLAs -- Dadaji Bhuse (who is also a minister) and Sanjay Rathod -- left for Guwahati in a chartered flight from Surat.
In the morning, four other MLAs -- Mangesh Kudalkar, Sada Sarvankar, Ashish Jaiswal and Deepak Keskar -- reached the North-eastern city in another chartered plane , sources said, citing the flight passenger list.
Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress held a massive protest outside the luxury hotel in Guwahati where dissident Shiv Sena MLAs are camping.
Assam TMC president Ripun Bora said when Assam is reeling under one of the worst floods ever, the BJP is engaged in 'horse-trading' and trying to topple a democratically elected government.
"Today, the Assam CM is trying to dismantle the democratically elected Maharashtra government. Himanta Biswa Sarma (the CM) has made Assam a market for MLA trading. This horse-trading must stop," he said.
Bora claimed a similar "horse-trading" will happen against Sarma and he will have to face the music one day.
TMC workers raised slogans like 'Shiv Sena Go Back' and 'Save Democracy' as they jostled with the security forces outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Gotanagar area of Guwahati.