After a revolt in the Shiv Sena, party president Uddhav Thackeray was ready to align with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra if the dissidents dumped rebel leader Eknath Shinde, a proposal that was unacceptable to rebel MLAs and the national saffron outfit, legislator Deepak Kesarkar claimed on Friday.
Kesarkar, a spokesperson of the rebel faction of Shiv Sena MLAs led by CM Shinde, also revealed Thackeray was planning to step down as Maharashtra chief minister last year after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Kesarkar said for Thackeray, who resigned as CM on June 29 following the revolt in the Shiv Sena, his relations with Modi were far more important than holding on to the top post.
The Thackeray camp of the Sena sought to make light of Kesarkar's comments, saying he has been making self-contradictory statements after being appointed a spokesperson and sounds "confused".
Kesarkar said after the rebellion broke out in the party with 39 MLAs (the number now stands at 40) siding with Shinde, the rebel leader who is now the chief minister, he again approached Thackeray through someone who was involved in talks between the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
However, Thackeray said he was ready to align with the BJP provided the rebels leave Shinde and come back to the party fold, a proposal which was not acceptable to the dissident MLAs and the BJP, he claimed.
Kesarkar claimed when even Thackeray was ready to align with the BJP, why were Sena leaders, particularly Aaditya Thackeray, provoking party workers against the rebel MLAs.
"When I left for Assam (Guwahati after the June 21 revolt), I contacted one of those involved in these talks (between Thackeray and BJP). I sent him to meet Uddhav saheb. He was told that let's forget what has happened and time is to come together.
"Even at that time, Uddhav saheb said 'you (the BJP) dump Shinde and we are ready for an alliance'. This was not acceptable to the BJP or the MLAs. Because it would have been inappropriate. The rest is history," Kesarkar said.
Ten days after raising the banner of revolt in the Shiv Sena, Shinde took oath as CM on June 30 with the BJP's support.
Kesarkar said a lot of Shiv Sena leaders were "pained" at attempts to "malign" the image of then-cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray, son of Uddhav Thackeray, by BJP MP and Union minister Narayan Rane by dragging him in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.
The rebel camp spokesperson said he established contact with Modi and started a line of communication.
"After Uddhavji met Modiji, it was decided he will quit (as CM) in the next 15 days because for him his relations (with the PM) were more important (than holding the post). But it was realised he needed more time to convince his party workers," he said, adding Thackeray's wife Rashmi, Sena leaders Anil Desai, Subhash Desai, Milind Narvekar and Shinde were aware of this development.
Thackeray had met with Modi in June last year along with then deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Congress minister Ashok Chavan.
In the past, Modi had termed Thackeray as his "younger brother".
The Thackeray-PM meeting in New Delhi was followed by the suspension of a dozen BJP MLAs from the Maharashtra legislative assembly for a year in July 2021 over unruly behaviour, a move which further strained ties between former allies Shiv Sena and the BJP which was then in the opposition.
Later, the talks halted after Rane, a bete noire of Thackeray, was inducted into the Union Cabinet which upset the Sena president, Kesarkar said.
The talks did not go further because of "ego" issues, Kesarkar later said.
All through the talks, he kept Shinde, then a member of the Thackeray cabinet, updated about developments, Kesarkar said.
The spokesperson of the rebel Sena camp said Shinde met Thackeray multiple times to convince him to revive ties with the BJP.
Reacting to Kesarkar's claims, Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande, a member of the Thackeray camp, said "He is revealing something new every day. He has been making self-contradictory statements and sounds confused."