Hours after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray's sensational revelation regarding Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale, the latter's Republican Party of India-A virtually split Monday.
Senior RPI-A leader Arhun Dangle came out in open support of the Shiv Sena and urged the state's Dalits to vote for 'Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti' propounded by the late Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray.
"We did not like the manner in which Athawale joined hands with Bharatiya Janata Party. I appeal to all Dalits to help realize the dream of the late Bal Thackeray for strengthening 'Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti' in the (Oct 15) assembly elections," Dangle told media persons after meeting Uddhav.
Though Dangle has not been given an election ticket from either RPI-A or Sena, the latter will support at least two RPI-A candidates owing allegiance to Dangle in Mumbra, Thane, and Chembur, Mumbai.
Reacting to Uddhav's comments in the party mouthpiece 'Saamana' Monday, Athawale denied striking a deal with BJP and noted that even the Shiv Sena had offered him a central cabinet berth.
"I have allied with BJP because they are ruling at the Centre. I am on friendly terms with Sena leaders and after the elections, will strive to bring the two parties (BJP-Sena) together," he said.
Referring to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray's comment that offering Athawale the post of deputy chief minister was a "laughable" idea, the Dalit leader hit back saying that Raj's dream of becoming the chief minister was a "joke".
The fast-paced developments resulting in a split within a major constituent of the erstwhile six-party 'Grand Alliance' followed Uddhav's revelations that he had personally intervened to secure a Rajya Sabha seat for Athawale last year from the reluctant BJP.
A non-committal Dangle refused to specify whether he would quit RPI-A or join the Shiv Sena, but dared Athawale to "take any action he wants against me".
The Sena expose came in the wake of Athawale's decision to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party which snapped its 25 years old alliance with the Shiv Sena last Thursday.
"I personally went to meet (then Gujarat chief minister) Narendra Modi and (then) BJP president Rajnath Singh on this issue. I clearly said if they wanted to see Modi as next PM, it was imperative to get Dalit support in Maharashtra," Uddhav said, pitching for a Rajya Sabha seat for Athawale last year.
In Monday's edit in the party mouthpiece 'Saamana', he claimed that the BJP leaders barely concealed their displeasure and even changed their paths whenever Athawale came in front of them, especially when he implored them for a cabinet berth after the May 2014 elections.
"We gave him a Rajya Sabha seat. That's enough. As it is, he is the Shiv Sena's burden. Why should we carry it? No BJP leader ever felt it important to honour Dalits by making Athawale a central minister," Thackeray said, claiming this was the BJP's stand on Athawale.
He added that the BJP was opposed to giving a sitting Rajya Sabha seat (Prakash Javadekar's) to accommodate Athawale last year.