Author: Prateek Goyal
The city of Thane was very close to Bal Thackeray’s heart. It was here that in 1967, the Shiv Sena won its first municipal election, which was soon followed by victory in Mumbai and Nashik. It also used to be the area of famous Shiv Sena leader Anand Dighe, who was known to run it without the intervention of Bal Thackeray.
Dighe died in 2001. Today his colleague Eknath Shinde has become a thorn in the eye of Uddhav Thackeray, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and son of Bal Thackeray. Shinde is the leader of the rebellion against Uddhav’s leadership, putting the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government in danger in Maharashtra.
The revolt started on June 21 when Shinde and at least 17 MLAs allegedly severed all contacts with the party. This happened after allegations of cross-voting in favor of BJP by some Shiv Sena MLAs in Maharashtra Legislative Council. Till last Friday, Shinde’s insurgent group had camped in a hotel in Guwahati and around 37 MLAs had joined the faction. It is being told that he had expressed displeasure with Shiv Sena’s alliance with Nationalist Congress Party and Congress and also accused Uddhav of not being available to the party workers. It is a common discussion that these people are planning to topple the current government with the help of BJP.
Meanwhile, posters with photographs of Bal Thackeray, Anand Dighe and Eknath Shinde hang on the streets of Thane. The absence of the photo of Uddhav and his son Aditya from these posters is not hidden from anyone. According to Shiv Sena workers, they are worried that Uddhav has forgotten the “real legacy” of Shiv Sena.
Manik Surve, 62, the local ward chief or branch chief of Thane’s Surve Wadi branch, says, “Shiv Sainiks are not happy with the NCP-Congress alliance from the very beginning. Our ideology is different from theirs. We are soldiers of Balasaheb Thackeray. We believe in Hindutva… it would be better if we come with the BJP and form the government.”
After Shinde’s rebellion, Uddhav himself was forced to clarify the party’s stand on Hindutva. On Wednesday, he said, “Shiv Sena and Hindutva cannot be separated. Hindutva is in our breath and blood.”
Prashant Khopkar, a Shiv Sainik from Thane, told Newslaundry that the BJP is his “natural partner”. He says, “It was because of our love and dedication for Balasaheb and the army that we struck a chord with this alliance. At times we felt helpless when Congress people spoke bad things about Veer Savarkar and other national heroes. We could not register our protest properly. So it would be better if we reconcile with the BJP.”
Originally coming from Satara district, the Shinde family had moved to Thane in the childhood of Eknath. He dropped out of school after class 11 and started working as a daily wage labourer. Later he also worked as an auto driver. According to a party worker, his association with Dighe, who made “Thane an army stronghold”, dates back to the early 1980s. And Dighe’s legacy is still alive in Thane, you will find a photo of him posted every couple of kilometers in the city.”
Jagdish Thorat, a senior leader of the Sher Sena in the city, recalls, “He used to work till 4:00 am in resolving the issues of the people. People used to come to his house day or night. He used to help everyone.” As Dighe’s aide, Shinde carries on the same legacy. He became the branch head of Kisan Nagar branch in 1987, and then became a corporator in the Thane Municipal Corporation in 1997. He quickly went from being a corporation leader to an MLA and then a cabinet minister.
Mahesh Tiwari, 33, is a party worker and his uncle was Dighe’s driver. He explains, “Shinde sahib is a staunch Shiv Sainik. After Dighe sahib’s departure, when many people were leaving the army, he took care of everything. He took care of everyone. We will support him as long as he is in the party. Even if he takes the leadership in his own hands and makes a pact with the BJP, we will still be with him.”
Tiwari also expressed regret over the Sena’s alliance with the Congress-NCP. “We agreed as our leaders decided to form the government with them. Had Balasaheb or Dighe sahib been there, they would never have agreed to this alliance.”
Apart from Shiv Sainiks, senior leaders of Thane are also fully supporting Shinde. Among them are the president of Shiv Sena in Thane district and Naresh Mhaske, mayor of Thane city. Eknath Shinde’s brother Prakash Shinde, who lives in Thane, told Newslaundry that the differences in the party stemmed from the fact that “people around Uddhav do not allow anyone to reach him.” Yes Shiv Sena will remain. Maybe the leadership will change.”
Thane-based political analyst Harish Kerzarkar believes that the chief minister has “lost control over Shiv Sena MLAs and dominance in the party.” He said, “Legally and technically, Shinde cannot take control of the party. But there is no doubt that the equations of power have changed. Not a rebellion of one person, but a united rebellion of all of them because there was no one to listen to them.”
According to Kerzarkar, the distance between Uddhav and his MLAs and cadre has been increased by leaders like Milind Narvekar and Sanjay Raut. He claims, “These leaders are not allowing the army men to reach their chief. Due to this, the order of talks has been broken… the undue priority given to Aaditya Thackeray over senior and experienced leaders has also increased dissatisfaction.
But many party workers said that in the end their allegiance lies with the Shiv Sena and not with any one leader.
Party worker Manya Surve says, “Even in the worst of times, we did not leave the army. So now the question of leaving does not arise. Shinde sahib never said that he is leaving the party. Everyone was a little shocked on the first day. But now we know, he will remain with the party… we will support him.”