Sahar Hotel, Near the Domestic Airport

Meanwhile, just as Uddhav Thackeray and his team were on their way to Hotel Lalit, Eknath Shinde received a call from NCP leader Shashikant Shinde. Shashikant had been at the airport, tapping the movements of his party men who had joined the rebellion. He had got a tip off from his sources that one of the missing NCP MLAs, Sanjay Bansode, had been traced. He was kept at Hotel Sahar near the domestic airport.

Shashikant told Eknath that around 100-150 men, which included BJP workers and some private security guards, were guarding the hotel. It wasn’t going to be possible for Shashikant to get Bansode out of the citadel alone. Eknath immediately made a few phone calls and a few vehicles and “core” Shivsainiks rushed to Hotel Sahar.

In what looked like a scene from a South Indian movie, a convoy of Thane Shivsainiks made a grand entry into Hotel Sahar. Eknath, along with two armed bodyguards, entered the hotel lobby. A former autorickshaw driver and someone who was trained under the dreaded Shivsainik, the late Anand Dighe, confrontations like these were not new for Eknath. He, in fact, is referred to as “Bhai” in his party circles, a term not just used for elder brother but also for someone who is feared.

Bhai confronted the BJP Youth Wing leader Mohit Bhartiya (Kambhoj) in the hotel lobby. Forgetting that he is a senior leader and a former minister, he snapped his fingers and charged into Kambhoj, uttering some typical Marathi abuses. In the meantime, Shashikant went to Bansode’s room and got him down. Bansode was almost stashed into the car, as Kambhoj and his men looked helplessly.

The convoy zoomed towards Hotel Lalit. Bansode was taken to the room Aditya Thackeray was in. Milind Narvekar then connected Bansode with Sharad Pawar on the phone line. An almost scared Bansode assured Sharad Pawar that he is with the party.

With Bansode in the middle, escorted by Eknath Shinde on one side and Milind Narvekar on the other, and Shashikant Shinde in the front seat, the fleet entered YB Chavan Centre and presented the rebel MLA in front of Sharad Pawar.

Hotel Lalit, Andheri

While the NCP and Shiv Sena were battling it out to bring back the rebel NCP MLAs, the BJP camp wasn’t lagging behind either. They were now eyeing the independents supporting Shiv Sena. The initial response wasn’t positive, but then they managed to hook Narendra Bhondekar, the independent MLA from Bhandara.

Devendra Fadnavis’s close aide from Bhandara-Gondia, Parinay Fuke, established links with Bhondekar. After a few phone calls, Bhondekar agreed to come out of Hotel Lalit. It was, however, not going to be easy to come out of the fortress guarded strongly by Shivsainiks. In the hustle-bustle of the evening, Bhondekar got out of his hotel room.

Speaking on his mobile phone, he walked towards the lobby and slowly started to move out. He was immediately stopped by Shivsainiks. Bhondekar informed that he was on a personal call with a family member. He then kept loitering around talking on the phone as his eyes kept a close watch on those guarding him. At an opportune moment, Bhondekar gave a slip to the Shiv Sena guards and came out to where a car was already waiting for him.

The moment Bhondekar got into the car, it rushed out of the hotel. A few moments later, the Shiv Sena leaders got to know about the escape and Eknath Shinde was left red-faced.

The BJP now had an additional MLA in its kitty.

YB Chavan Centre, Nariman Point, Mumbai

With eight of the rebel MLAs present in the NCP meeting chaired by Sharad Pawar and two on their way, only four MLAs along with Ajit Pawar were still missing. The tables had been turned and the game was very much in Pawar’s hand now. It was now time to quash the revolt on technical grounds.

Ajit Pawar’s appointment as the leader of the legislative party gave him some rights, including taking decisions on behalf of the party. The BJP camp had already started to hint at the constitutional role of the legislative party leader. Ajit was entitled to extend support, and it would be the Speaker’s prerogative to accept it. The first thing that needed to be done was to remove Ajit from the post. A unanimous decision was taken to do so. A trusted lieutenant was needed to shoulder the responsibility. Jayant Patil was entrusted with the job.

Having being caught off guard, the NCP took another big decision. It decided to shift all its MLAs to a secure place. All the MLAs were to be taken to Hotel Renaissance in Powai, Mumbai. Hotel Renaissance, incidentally, was the same hotel that, not very long ago, had witnessed the political drama of Karnataka.

36 Days

Excerpted with permission from 36 Days: A Political Chronicle of Ambition, Deception, Trust and Betrayal, Kamlesh Sutar, Rupa Publications.