Mumbai: An emotional Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday offered to quit as Maharashtra Chief Minister and extended an olive branch to rebel Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde, saying he will be happy if a Shiv Sainik succeeds him, adding a new twist to the ongoing political crisis that threatens to bring down his coalition government of two-and-a-half years.
Breaking his silence over the revolt led by Shinde, a cabinet minister and Sena strongman from Thane, Thackeray said he was ready to step down if the rebel leader and MLAs supporting him, all camping in Guwahati in the BJP-ruled Assam, declare that they don't want him to continue as CM.
In an 18-minute live webcast which was delayed by 30 minutes, Thackeray, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day, made an emotional appeal to the rebels as well as common Shiv Sainiks and admitted to being inexperienced and clarified that a spine surgery late last year kept him away from meeting people.
The CM said he was ready to give up the post of party president as well if Shiv Sainiks feel he isn't capable of leading the outfit which is heading the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, which also includes the NCP and the Congress.
"Why make statements from Surat (where rebels headed first on Monday night) and other places. Come and tell me to my face that I am incompetent to handle the post of Chief Minister and Shiv Sena president. I will resign immediately. I will keep my resignation letter ready and you can come and take it to the Raj Bhavan," he said.
The CM said he would be happy if a Shiv Sainik succeeds him to the top constitutional post.
Recalling the events of November 2019 when the MVA took shape, Thackeray said he agreed to become CM despite his political inexperience after NCP president Sharad Pawar suggested him to take up the job. The MVA came into existence despite the Congress and the NCP being Shiv Sena's political adversaries for several decades, he said.
Thackeray said he was shocked at the ongoing political developments in the state, which started on Monday night when Shinde (58) raised a banner of revolt and landed in a hotel in Surat, around 280km from Mumbai, with a bunch of disgruntled MLAs.
''If my own people do not want me, I don't want to stick to power. I face challenges head on and never turn my back on them,'' he said.
Thackeray said he does not run away from responsibilities and reiterated his commitment to Hindutva. "I am a man who does any task assigned to me with full determination. These days, there is a talk about the Shiv Sena not being the party of (founder) Balasaheb Thackeray and giving up Hindutva,'' he said. The CM said rebels were seeking to appropriate the Hindutva plank and raising a question mark on the Shiv Sena's commitment to the ideology. ''Hindutva is Shiv Sena's breath. I was the first CM to speak about Hindutva in the Legislative Assembly," Thackeray said.
Attacking Shinde without naming him, the CM said all Sena leaders who have become ministers since 2014 (when the party was a constituent of the BJP-led government) owe their success to the organisation after the death of Bal Thackeray. Shinde was a member of the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet (2014-19).
"Balasaheb died in 2012. We contested the assembly elections on our own in 2014 and won 63 seats (Sena later joined the BJP government)," he said.
Thackeray said some rebel MLAs have told the party they want to come back from Guwahati, where they have moved from Surat, and alleged some of the legislators have been coerced or intimidated.
The Sena president thanked Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Pawar and the state bureaucracy for standing by him despite his inexperience in governance and added that he was voted among top five CMs in terms of administrative performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shinde has claimed the support of 46 MLAs.