Maharashtra Shiv Sena MLA Dadaji Bhuse, MLA Sanjay Rathod and MLC Ravindra Phatak with Eknath Shinde, at Radisson Blu hotel in Guwahati. ANI

In an attempt to keep the doors for a possible rapprochement with rebel Eknath Shinde open, senior Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut on Thursday said that his party was ready to exit the MVA government if rebel MLAs wish so. Exhorting the rebel legislators to come to Mumbai and meet the party leadership, Raut said, “We are ready to consider exiting out of MVA if this is the will of all MLAs, but for that they have to come here and discuss it with the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.”

However, rejecting the olive branch, Eknath Shinde refused to be part to the MVA alliance any more as more MLAs joined his pack of rebel legislators. Four more MLAs joined Shinde in Guwahati on Wednesday night. With this, seven more MLAs have joined the rebel group in the last 24 hours. Shinde on Thursday morning tweeted a letter addressed to Shiv Sena chief and Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray, the tone and tenor of which was least conciliatory or apologetic.

Describing in detail the reason why they all took the step, the letter read, “People around the CM used to decide if we can meet him or not. We felt we were insulted. CM never used to be in the Secretariat, instead, he used to be in Matoshree (Thackeray residence). We used to call people around the CM but they never used to attend our calls. We were fed up with all these things and persuaded Eknath Shinde to take this step.”

So far, out of 55 MLAs, 42 MLAs are with Shinde, which leaves only 13 legislators with Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. Amid the deepening crisis, Raut renewed efforts for reconciliation. Reaching out to the rebels, Raut

said in a tweet, “We can thrash it out through a dialogue, dialogue can happen, doors of the house are open, why are you wandering aimlessly. Don’t be slave, decide in a dignified manner.”

Putting up a brave face, senior NCP leader Sharad Pawar suggested on Thursday evening that the MVA alliance will go in for a floor test. The MVA government is in minority or not will be decided on the floor of the House only, Pawar told the media persons here. Shiv Sena rebels led by Shinde would have to present themselves in the state Assembly in Mumbai.

Earlier in the day, while striking a conciliatory note, Raut had claimed that 21 MLAs in Guwahati have contacted Shiv Sena, who would be with the party after they return to Mumbai. “Uddhav Thackeray will come back to Varsha (Bungalow) very soon. Twenty-one MLAs in Guwahati have contacted us and when they return to Mumbai, they will be with us,” Raut added.

While he was making such hopeful claims, another Shiv Sena MLC Ravindra Phatak joined the rebel ranks in Guwahati, said sources. Ironically, Phatak is a confidant of the Maharashtra Chief Minister and had been sent to Guwahati, along with Milind Narvekar, as emissary to negotiate with Eknath Shinde and bring the rebel around.

As the day progressed, it saw a flurry of activity among MVA partners, the Congress and NCP. In the evening, NCP leaders were huddled in a closed door meeting at YB Centre. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and NCP leader on Thursday said that his will stand by Thackeray till the end. “We will stand with Uddhav Thackerayji till the end. We are keeping an eye on the current political situation,” the NCP leader said at a press conference.

The Deputy Chief Minister further said that all three partners in the MVA alliance – NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena – have the collective responsibility to “save the government”.

Earlier in the day, Minister of Food and Civil Supply and Consumer Affairs Chhagan Bhujbal had expressed his displeasure over Raut’s ‘exit’ comment. The NCP leader had said, “They should have discussed the issue with MVA before issuing the statement. Udhav Thackeray is free to decide. Shiv Sena and Raut can take whatever decision they want but before that they should have come to our leader Sharad Pawar.”

Congress was also unhappy with Raut’s statement and convened a meeting at the Sahyadri Guest House in this regard. Senior Congress leaders including HK Patil, Balasaheb Thorat, Nana Patole and Ashok Chavan are participating in meeting. “We’re with them (Shiv Sena) to stop BJP from coming to power. This game is happening due to ED … Congress is ready for the floor test. We’re with MVA and will remain. If they (Shiv Sena) want to form an alliance with anyone, we don’t have a problem,” Congress state chief Patole said. Between the claims and counter claims, however, sources close to the party said that two Shiv Sena leaders are behind the rebellion and the political crisis its has plunged the MVA government into. The leaders who are alleged to be behind the coup are Shambhuraj Desai, a Shiv Sena leader from Satara, who is a Minister of State for Home (Rural), Finance, Planning and Excise, and Koregaon legislator Mahesh Shinde.