By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jun 21 (IANS): As Maharashtra's Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) came to grips with the "lightning bolt-type" political crisis that threatens its survival, trouble-shooters of constituent parties, the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Congress were busy in the background to defuse and salvage the situation.
First, the three parties conducted a headcount and "secured" their own legislators from the lurking Bharatiya Janata Party which has virtually launched "Operation Lotus" to bring down the MVA.
The Sena moved swiftly to contact the estimated dozen-odd MLAs who are reportedly siding with the rebel leader, Minister Eknath Shinde and have gone or were lured to Gujarat's Surat since late on Monday and early on Tuesday.
It also acted quickly to clip Shinde's wings by removing him as the Shiv Sena Legislative Party Leader, with another senior legislator Ajay Choudhari - and sent a clear message to the rebels group of what could be in store for them.
Currently, of the Sena's 55 MLAs, 31 are confirmed in Mumbai, another dozen-plus are accounted for and still with the party, including some who have called up the party leaders here claiming they were hoodwinked to join the rebels against their wishes or knowledge.
"With these figures, Shinde is left with barely nine-10 MLAs on whose strength he is bargaining with the party leadership, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and attempting to topple the government with the BJP's help," claimed a Sena leader.
Post MLC poll results on Monday night, Thackeray had made a statement that "traitors will not be forgiven" and now there's intense speculation if he had indeed got an inkling of what lay in store for his regime the very next morning.
A MVA leader pointed out that the most shocking aspect was "how these MLAs' managed to quietly slip off" taking advantage of the fracas witnessed during the counting of the MLCs biennial poll results on Monday and the boisterous celebrations that continued till late.
According to another leader, it has now surfaced how the MLAs sneaked out citing bland reasons like "having a headache", "not feeling too well", "upset tummy" etc, and disappeared from the celebration scene, remaining unsuspected till Tuesday morning.
A Congress leader demanded to know how the MLAs' regular police escorts did not get any whiff of the goings-on and why they did not alert the police control or other authorities that could have helped nip the rebellion in the bud.
A NCP leader said the Sena MLAs were allegedly told they were going to Nashik, but they landed up in Surat and it is not known if they protested at the abrupt change in destination.
With Shinde, certain other ministers and MLAs going incommunicado, the stark reality dawned on the Sena only early on Tuesday and its trouble-shooters got into the act.
During the day, the three allies also engaged in several brainstorming sessions on how to grapple with the crises, save the MVA government and also the Sena's reputation and numerical strength in the Assembly.
MVA leaders confide various options are being considered to ensure minimum collateral damage to the party or the government, reduce the rebellion to a mini-storm in a tea-cup, and simultaneously checkmate the prowling BJP.