Eknath Shinde had led a rebellion in the Shiv Sena last year.

Mumbai:

Nearly eight months after his coup in Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde’s claim on the party’s name and bow-and-arrow symbol has been cleared by the Election Commission in a huge setback for former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

In a 78-page order on the protracted battle for control of the organisation, the commission said Mr Shinde, who became Chief Minister after the revolt, was supported by MLAs with 76 per cent of the party’s winning votes in the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly polls.

It allowed the faction led by Uddhav Thackeray, whose father Bal Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in 1966, to keep the ‘flaming torch’ poll symbol allotted last year.

The Election Commission also held the 2018 changes to the Shiv Sena party constitution as “undemocratic” since it centralised the party’s control and, in broader to all parties, asked them to ensure that their constitutions allowed free, fair and transparent elections to the party positions.

“I thank the Election Commission. The majority counts in democracy. This is the victory of Balasaheb [Thackeray]’s legacy. Ours is the true Shiv Sena,” Mr Shinde said as his supporters set off firecrackers across Mumbai and other parts of the state.

Sources said Mr Shinde’s next move will be to call party elections that are expected to anoint him party chief.

Calling the Election Commission’s “murder of democracy” and a “theft”, Uddhav Thackeray slammed Mr Shinde as “once a traitor, always a traitor”.

Addressing a news conference, he said he had urged the poll body to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision and “in future, anyone can buy MLAs or MPs and become Chief Minister or Prime Minister.”

Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP from Mr Thackeray’s team, said, “Such a decision was expected. We don’t have faith in the Election Commission.” His colleague Arvind Sawant said the former Chief Minister’s camp will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.

Following his rebellion in June, when Eknath Shinde flew away with most lawmakers of the party with the help of the BJP, setting off the eventual ouster of Uddhav Thackeray’s state government, the two sides have been fighting for the party’s identity.

Later, the Election Commission froze the bow-and-arrow symbol of the Shiv Sena and allotted the ‘two swords and shield’ symbol to the Eknath Shinde faction and the ‘flaming torch’ symbol to the Uddhav Thackeray camp.

In November last year, Uddhav Thackeray requested the Delhi High Court to overrule the Election Commission. However, the plea was dismissed by the court.

Last month, the factions led by Mr Shinde and Mr Thackeray filed their written statements in support of their claims over the party’s name and symbol with the poll body.


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