Mumbai: The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena is in a celebratory mood after reclaiming Shivaji Park as the precinct for the party’s annual Dussehra rally. However, the vertical split of Sena, engineered by chief minister Eknath Shinde three months ago is getting deeper, with Shinde strengthening his faction.
On Saturday, the chief minister took the battle into the Shiv Sena stronghold, as he visited Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray’s constituency of Worli to review problems faced by residents of Kamgar Nagar 1 and 2 and Ganesh Nagar, affected by the Worli-Shivdi elevated road.
“Locals cannot be left in the lurch at the cost of development. Hence, the problems of those affected by the Worli-Shivdi elevated road will be understood, and an effort will be made to ensure that justice is be done,” said Shinde, who was accompanied by Mumbai South Central MP Rahul Shewale, Sada Sarvankar, BJP MLA Kalidas Kolambkar and officials from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The chief minister asked for the project-affected to be housed in transit camps at Century Mill, promising a meeting in future about their rehabilitation and redevelopment of these buildings.
About three months after he pulled down the Uddhav Thackeray-led three-party government to form a government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Eknath Shinde has moved on to his next task – a complete takeover of the Shiv Sena, legally as well as in public perception; the visit to Worli setting a precedent.
A close aide of Shinde said the latter had a detailed discussion with one of the foremost legal names in the country to escape disqualification under the provisions of anti-defection law before splitting the party. After multiple rounds of consultation with legal experts in Delhi, Shinde was advised that taking over the party would be a better option than seeking recognition for a breakaway faction. Accordingly, Shinde and Co have been planning their strategy and executing the same — with help from friends in the BJP.
Let’s take a look at the chronology of events since June 30 when the Shinde-Fadnavis-led government took over – the steps Shinde has been following are in accordance with this plan. For the Sena, its three wings or units are most important: The party organisation, the legislative unit and the parliamentary unit.
Shinde’s first step obviously was to split the legislature party. With 40 out of 55 MLAs siding with him—which were clearly more than two-thirds of the party strength to escape disqualification under the anti-defection law—Shinde established his control over the Shiv Sena legislature party. Though Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has objected to it, currently, Shinde-led faction is the Shiv Sena in the records of the state assembly.
The next step was the takeover of Shiv Sena Parliamentary unit. In July, 12 out of 19 MPs of Shiv Sena submitted a letter to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla who, on July 20, recognised them as the real Shiv Sena, with south central Mumbai MP Rahul Shewale, as its leader and Washim MP Bhawna Gawali as its chief whip. Both Shewale and Gawli owe allegiance to Shinde.
Putting his house in order
Shinde’s next aim was to organise the party.
Shiv Sena has a national executive that governs the party. It is led by Sena chief and has the hierarchy of neta or leader, followed by upneta or deputy leader, party secretaries, district chiefs, party legislators and members of Parliament. While it was busy with the formation of the government, Shinde faction began working on getting maximum people in party organisations on its side, simultaneously. Senior leaders like Ramdas Kadam and Anandaro Adsul were approached and brought to the Shinde camp. Both were among the neta or leaders in the Thackeray-led Sena. While Kadam’s son is MLA from Khed in Ratnagiri, Adsul is former MP. Attempts were made to get north west Mumbai MP Gajanan Kirtikar too but his son Amol Kirtikar, who is active in Aaditya Thackeray-led Yuva Sena, chose not to join, which prevented senior Kirtikar from crossing over to the rebel faction. Marathi theatre personality Sharad Ponkshe who was one of the upnetas also joined the Shinde camp.
A national executive was formed with Shinde as its head in July itself. He assumed the designation of mukhya neta or chief leader and maintained the remaining hierarchy as that of Sena. He also retained Uddhav Thackeray as paksha pramukh or party chief, as a figurehead. Among the netas are Kadam, Adsul, minister Gulabrao Patil and Lok Sabha MP Prataprao Jadhav.
A total of 26 deputy leaders like ministers Dadaji Bhuse and Deepak Kesarkar, legislators Anil Babar, Dnyanaraj Chougule and Chimanrao Patil have also been declared along with office-bearers in states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Manipur, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. Shinde has retained district chiefs of Shiv Sena who joined his faction, while for the remaining districts, he has already announced new party unit chiefs or is in the process of doing so.
“We have already submitted details of our organisational set-up to the Election Commission in support of our argument that ours is the real Shiv Sena. We have the majority of party legislators and party MPs. Even for the national executive we have a significant number of office bearers who were originally appointed by Uddhav Thackeray. Our legal advisors have told us that we have a strong case to stake claim on the real Shiv Sena,” said a key Shinde aide who is part of the team that has been preparing for legal battle.
Over the past two months, the Shinde faction has also been looking to win over those who matter at local level on their side – nine vibhag pramukhs or division chiefs in Mumbai and Thane have been appointed.
The Sena leader is also rying to set up parallel frontal organisations like the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, Shiv Sena’s trade union wing, and Yuva Sena, the youth wing.
When perception is reality
The chief minister is aware that the Thackeray legacy and support of ground level cadre—the Shivsainiks—is crucial. This has propelled him to create a public perception in his favour.
A senior Shiv Sena leader noted that Shinde had launched a charm offensive aimed at wooing first-generation Shiv Sena leaders who had worked with late party supremo Bal Thackeray. “Be it (former Lok Sabha speaker and chief minister) Manohar Joshi or (former minister) Liladhar Dake, Shinde is moving in to woo party veterans, many of whom have been sidelined or ignored for years. Getting some of them on his side will strengthen his case legally and help send out a message to the masses that he represents the legacy of Balasaheb,” he said.
Perception is also the reason why Shinde is setting up a parallel Shiv Sena Bhavan at Dadar, not far from the iconic building that serves as Sena’s headquarters. The Dusshera rally is improtant for that very reason, with plans of a mega show of strength on October 5.
Attempts are also being made to get MNS chief Raj Thackeray as a chief guest, which could lend legitimacy to the rally.
Shinde lacks Uddhav Thackeray’s claim to the Thackeray legacy – his biggest weapon. He has been reaching out to members of the Thackeray family to endorse him — Smita Thackeray, who was married to Uddhav’s elder brother Jaidev, and Nihar Thackeray, son of Uddhav’s eldest brother Bindumadhav Thackeray, have supported him, though not joined him.
On September 27, during the next hearing on a clutch of petitions on the split in Shiv Sena, the Supreme Court may decide whether the ECI can go ahead and take a decision on petitions filed by both the factions of Shiv Sena staking claim on the party name and symbol.
A Lok Sabha MP from the Shinde camp said, more Shiv Sena workers are likely to join them if the courts ruled in their favour and if the ECI allocated the ‘bow-and-arrow’ symbol to them. This, he said, will cement their claim of being the “real Shiv Sena.”
However, the question that is haunting the Shinde camp is: Will the Sena cadre and more importantly, the Marathi manoos support Shinde?