Two suspected turncoat Shiv Sena MLAs made a dramatic escape from the rebels' camp - led by senior Minister Eknath Shinde and others who had pitched tent in a five-star hotel in Surat, Gujarat - and reached Maharashtra safely in the past 24 hours.
The Sena MLAs who 'escaped' are: Kailas Patil from Osmanabad and Nitin Deshmukh from Akola, who claimed they were "misled and taken against their wishes" by the rebels group late on Monday.
Recounting his tale to the Sena bigwigs, Patil said when the group of MLAs was heading for a purported party to Thane he sensed something amiss as the vehicle changed route and headed towards Gujarat from the Ghodbunder Road on Mira Road.
Under the pretext of relieving himself, Patil managed to get down at Talasari near the Maharashtra-Gujarat border Police Check Post at that late hour, before entering the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled adjoining state.
Taking advantage of the darkness, he started walking briskly for around five km towards Mumbai and then managed to hitch a bike ride towards the state capital.
En route, Patil called up Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and briefed him on the upcoming political crisis spearheaded by Shinde and others.
He finally reached Thackeray's private residence 'Matoshri' in Bandra from where he was escorted to a safe house and he remains lodged there since.
Coming back with a sensational ordeal of survival and escape, Deshmukh claimed he was 'kidnapped' and then taken to Surat in the rebels' group which landed there during the night of Monday-Tuesday.
"Around 3 am on Tuesday, I managed to escape from the hotel and went outside, to hitch a ride from some passing vehicles. I was pursued by over a hundred Gujarat Police personnel who prevented me from sitting in any vehicle and they forcibly took me to some hospital," Deshmukh told mediapersons on Wednesday at Nagpur.
At the hospital, Deshmukh claimed that they performed some medical procedures on his body, tried to prove that he had 'suffered a heart attack' and gave him some injection, though he was perfectly healthy.
"They treated me like some terrorist. Somehow I could manage to flee from the hospital and here I am - absolutely fit and fine, no heart problems as the police contended," said a relieved Deshmukh.
Both Patil and Deshmukh reiterated that they are "of course with CM Thackeray and there was no question of them joining anti-party activities or rebelling.
The duo could not provide the exact number of rebels allegedly supporting Shinde though Deshmukh said "many more will return" to the Sena fold.
Earlier, Deshmukh's wife had lodged a missing complaint with the local police that she suspected threats to his life as he was not available on phone after 7 p.m. on Monday (June 20).
Sena Chief Spokesperson and MP Sanjay Raut drew the media attention to the successful escape by the two MLAs - Patil and Deshmukh - and said such treatment meted out to them was condemnable.
Minister Shinde, who has shifted camp from Surat to Guwahati in Assam, on Wednesday claimed that he now enjoys the support of more than 42 Sena MLAs.
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and CM Thackeray have both tested Covid-19 positive, and the rebels prepared for a 'wait-and-watch' spell and the Opposition BJP made preparations to topple the MVA and grab power.