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Eknath Shinde Will Be Maharashtra CM; To Swear In At 7:30 PM: Fadnavis

Eknath Shinde, the rebel Shiv Sena leader, will swear in at 7:30 pm as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra

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In an unexpected move, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday announced that Eknath Shinde will be the next Chief Minister of Maharashtra, ten days after the rebel Shiv Sena leader raised a banner of revolt that culminated in the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

The dramatic announcement by Fadnavis, who will not be a part of the new dispensation, defied expectations that he would return as chief minister with the support of the Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction for a third term.

The Sena MLA from Kopri-Panchpakhadi in Thane city alone will take oath of office at 7.30 pm on Thursday, and a cabinet expansion will take place later, the BJP leader, who was flanked by Shinde, said at a press conference at Raj Bhavan premises after meeting Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.

"I will not betray the faith Fadnavis has placed in me," Shinde (58) told the media.

The BJP will extend support to Shinde's group, said Fadnavis, a former chief minister and the outgoing Leader of Opposition in the Assembly.

The BJP is the single largest party in the Assembly with 106 seats.

"I will be out of government but will ensure smooth functioning of the government which is coming as an alternative after Uddhav Thackeray resigned," Fadnavis said.

Sena (rebels) as well as BJP MLAs and some independents will be sworn in as ministers during the expansion, he added.

This was not a battle for power but for principles and Hindutva ideology, he said, adding the BJP was against imposing mid-term elections on the state at this juncture.

The BJP leader said coming together of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress to form the MVA government in November 2019 was an "insult" of the mandate of the 2019 Assembly polls.

The three-party government, which collapsed on June 29 following the resignation of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, caused an unrest in Shiv Sena ranks, he maintained.

"Uddhav Thackeray aligned with parties (Congress and NCP) whom (Sena founder) Bal Thackeray opposed all his life," Fadnavis claimed.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance was "corrupt" and two ministers of that government are in jail for corruption and money laundering charges, the BJP leader said.

Shiv Sena MLAs were facing problems in their constituencies as the MVA allies were hurting their prospects, Fadnavis said.

Speaking later, Shinde said he took the decision (to rebel against the MVA government) with support of 50 MLAs, most of the them of the Shiv Sena, for the development of the state and "there was no personal interest involved." "There were limitations to the functioning of the MVA," he said.

Shinde, who was a senior minister in the Thackeray government, lauded Fadnavis for giving up the opportunity to become CM, saying the BJP leader showed large-heartedness in making "Balasaheb Thackeray's Shiv Sainik" the next CM.

Earlier in the day, Shinde arrived in Mumbai from Goa and met Fadnavis at the latter's official residence in South Mumbai to discuss formation of the next government in Maharashtra.

Shinde and Fadnavis held a brief meeting at the latter's residence before heading to the Raj Bhavan along with several BJP leaders.

The BJP has claimed it has the support of 170 MLAs, including those from the Shinde faction, in a House of 288.

The Mumbai police had made heavy security arrangements in view of Shinde's arrival in Mumbai.

Roads were emptied so that Shinde's cavalcade faces no hindrance while going to 'Sagar', the official bungalow of Fadnavis located at Malabar Hill.

Joint Commissioner of Police (law and order) Vishwas Nangre Patil led the cavalcade himself while other police officials stood guard throughout the route for quick movement and also to ensure that there were no protests by Shiv Sena supporters, an official said.

"Shinde, who landed at the Mumbai airport by a chartered flight this afternoon, was escorted by the senior police officials from the airport to South Mumbai. Traffic on the route was stopped to facilitate the passage Shinde's convoy," officials said.

Some Shiv Sena workers, who tried to hold a protest outside 'Sagar', were detained, they added.

Shinde, who was camping in a Guwahati hotel along with rebel MLAs for more than a week after the rebellion, arrived in Goa on Wednesday night.

Shinde and other rebel MLAs stayed at a resort at Dona Paula near Goa capital Panaji. While other MLAs continued to be at the resort, the rebel leader stepped out amid a tight police security around 12.20 pm.

"I am going to Mumbai to meet the Maharashtra Governor. All other MLAs are staying in Goa at present," Shinde told reporters outside the resort.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said the rebels have chosen their way and there would be no hindrance from the party in the path of the dissidents to associate with the BJP.

The Rajya Sabha MP said the Sena, which led the MVA government, will play the role of constructive opposition to the new government.

Talking to reporters a day after Sena president Thackeray resigned as the CM, Raut said the dissident leaders will "regret" their decision to part ways with the Shiv Sena.

"You (rebel leaders) will regret this. Eknath Shinde (the leader of the rebel MLAs) was a staunch Shiv Sainik and worked for the party for many years. Be it (MLAs) Gulabrao Patil, Sandipan Bhumre and many (who are in the Shinde camp) who worked for the party and struggled for it…they have chosen their path," Raut said.

The Sena rebels have blamed Raut for his visceral statements for widening the gap between them and the party leadership.

Responding to this, Raut said, "If I am responsible for making Shiv Sainik a minister then I own it." Meanwhile, Maharashtra Congress leaders met Sena president Thackeray at his residence 'Matoshree' in suburban Bandra a day after he resigned as chief minister.

It was a courtesy call as they had worked with Thackeray as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government for the last two-and-half years, said Congress leader Nitin Raut.

As to whether the MVA, an alliance of Sena, Congress and NCP, would continue, he said the issue was yet to be discussed.

State Congress president Nana Patole said the party would contest the coming local body polls on its own, while the decision as to whether to continue the alliance for Assembly and Lok Sabha polls would be taken by the party leadership.

(PTI)