Mumbai: The Shiv Sena faced further loss of political capital and credibility after the Maharashtra chief minister, opposition parties and even activists rounded on it, dismissing its opposition to a planned mega-refinery as opportunistic and disingenuous.

On the one hand, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis virtually dismissed its opposition to the Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd. (RRPCL) project on Monday.

On the other, opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) dubbed Shiv Sena’s opposition as nothing but a “stunt".

And finally, the Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsha Samiti (Action Committee Against Konkan Refinery) dared the Shiv Sena leadership to pull out of the government —it’s an alliance partner —if it had any self-respect left.

There are clear electoral compulsions behind the Sena lending support to local opposition to the project. In the larger Konkan region comprising Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts, the Shiv Sena is the most powerful political entity in numerical terms. Of the eight assembly seats in these two districts, it won five in 2014 assembly elections, the NCP won two and the Congress one. The Shiv Sena also represents the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha seat as well as the neighbouring Raigad seat.

Fadnavis’ brusque brush-off came minutes after Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and senior leader and Maharashtra industry minister Subhash Desai publicly declared on Monday that the project stands cancelled.

Fadnavis poured water on the Sena bravado saying the government was the final authority to take a call on the refinery.

Desai, who had announced that he was cancelling the land acquisition notification issued by the “state government", was personally snubbed by Fadnavis who said Desai had no authority to do so. Then Desai further embarrassed the party by hitting back at the chief minister, saying “since I had personally signed the notification issued on May 18, 2017, I have the authority to cancel it as well".

Ahead of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Shiv Sena ministers met Fadnavis again to hand him a letter demanding cancellation of the notification. Later, talking to reporters Desai said his ministry had already initiated the process to cancel it.

A senior Shiv Sena minister, who requested anonymity, said Desai could have avoided saying this as it put the party in a very awkward position.

“The people opposing the refinery say that their protest started in February last year. The notification was issued in May which means either Desai was unaware of the protest or we had taken a position in favour of the project. That is what the project affected people believe," the Sena minister said.

Ashok Walam, president of the action committee, said it was high time Shiv Sena withdrew its support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government. “Within 15 minutes of Uddhav Thackeray and Subhash Desai saying that the refinery project won’t happen, the chief minister says that the notification has not been cancelled. This is clearly a loss of face for Thackeray and Shiv Sena. The chief minister has not only cheated the people in Konkan but also the Shiv Sena. If the Shiv Sena has any self-respect left and if it really means to be with us against the project, it should pull out of the government and topple this BJP government," Walam told Mint on the phone.

In a damage control bid, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana wrote on Tuesday that if the “chief minister is so power-drunk, he should dare push through the refinery project against Shiv Sena’s opposition".

Senior Shiv Sena leaders and ministers Diwakar Raote and Eknath Shinde went into a huddle with Desai before a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning but later all Shiv Sena ministers attended the cabinet meeting.

A senior BJP minister, who did not want to be named, said the Shiv Sena had lost all “moral and political right" to take a position against the project now. “Things have moved on since the industry department held by Desai issued the land acquisition notification on 18 May, 2017, targeted to acquire more than 5,453 hectares of land for the project. By 13 March, 2018, the government had received consent letters from 338 land owners for land purchase transactions involving nearly 1,100 hectares. The industry and revenue departments have also conducted hearings on more than 5,700 cases of objection. What were Shiv Sena and Desai doing all this while," asked the BJP minister.

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