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Opinion: Whose Shiv Sena is it now?

It is possible that Eknath Shinde will be able to control the entire Shiv Sena along with the legislative party of Shiv Sena. If this is possible, Shiv Sena will follow the thoughts of Balasaheb Thackeray but will be free from the Thackeray dynasty, observes Prem Shukla

Opinion Whose Shiv Sena is it now
Mumbai, First Published Jul 6, 2022, 2:39 PM IST

Shiv Sena has been facing the most severe challenge since its inception. In its history of the last six decades, Shiv Sena has had to face repeated rebellions, but for the first time, its very existence is in danger.

Also Read: Next Maha battle: Who controls the Shiv Sena?

The newly-elected Maharashtra Chief Minister, Eknath Shinde, calls himself the real Shiv Sena and a disciple of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray. The manner in which he established control over the legislative party of Shiv Sena, the manner in which all elected assembly members of Uddhav Thackeray's cabinet defied the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray by coming to Eknath Shinde's side, it is clear that the Thackeray family is cut off from regular contact with their organisation. 

Uddhav and his son Aditya Thackeray were so surrounded by their courtiers that they were completely ignorant of the pain of Shiv Sainiks and even the discontent of their cabinet colleagues and MLAs. Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray had to face rebellion many times since the establishment of the party. 

When the Janata Party era came in 1977, Hemchandra Gupte and Datta Pradhan had distanced themselves from Thackeray, questioning the existence of Shiv Sena. Hemchandra Gupte, who was then the first mayor of Shiv Sena, had joined not only the Janata Party but also challenged the leadership of Balasaheb Thackeray. 

Hemchandra Gupte had also succeeded in winning the assembly elections from Dadar, a stronghold of Shiv Sena. It should be remembered that the architect of the organisational structure that exists in Shiv Sena today was Datta Pradhan. It was he who started the practice of a unit called 'Shakha' in Shiv Sena on the lines of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. 

When Datta Pradhan separated himself from the Sena, the question arose in the people's minds about whether Shiv Sena would be able to carry forward its organisational form?

There was a time when Manohar Joshi and Sudhir Joshi went to Balasaheb Thackeray, and both proposed that there was no justification for Shiv Sena to continue. Balasaheb had said, 'anyone who wants can happily go out of Shiv Sena. I will run Shiv Sena on my own'. To save its existence, the Shiv Sena had to ally with the Muslim League and the Congress. Today’s Shiv Sena leaders must have forgotten the historic meeting of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray and Muslim League's Chief Ghulam Banatwala on Mastan Talav. 

In 1980, Balasaheb Thackeray had to negotiate with then Chief minister of Congress, Abdul Rehman Antulay. In 1985, the Shiv Sena could not have reached power in Mumbai Municipal Corporation without the patronage of Vasantdada Patil.

Shiv Sena started getting great success apart from Mumbai and Thane Municipal Corporation when Balasaheb Thackeray introduced himself to the public in the role of Hindu Hriday Samrat. Before the 1987 Vileparle assembly by-election, only two Shiv Sena MLAs were elected. For the 1st time, in 1972, Wamanrao Mahadik successfully won the by-election from the Parel assembly seat. Whereas the second time in the 1985 assembly elections, Chhagan Bhujbal got elected to the assembly from Mazgaon. In 1987, when Shiv Sena took up the issue of Hindutva, Ramesh Prabhu was elected as a Shiv Sena candidate. 

In 1990 Bhartiya Janata Party -- Shiv Sena alliance was formed, and for the first time, winning beyond Mumbai, Sena got 52 Legislative assembly seats. In the race for the position of Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, the first rebellion of Shiv Sena's legislative party was started in 1991 by Chhagan Bhujbal, who claimed to have broken 18 MLAs of Shiv Sena. However, even after the full patronage of the then Sudhakarrao Naik government, Bhujbal managed to break only 12 MLAs. 

If the then Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Madhukar Rao Choudhary, had not done the constitutional game, Bhujbal did not have the numbers even according to the then anti-defection act. The way the Shiv Sena was successful in defeating Bhujbal at the hands of Bala Nandgaonkar in Mazgaon in 1995 sent a message that one cannot expand one's existence by breaking the Shiv Sena. 

In 1999, Ganesh Naik also revolted and managed to snatch the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation from Shiv Sena. Yet, in the 1999 assembly elections, the way Ganesh Naik had been defeated by the strategy of Anand Dighe, also sent a strong message to the rebels of Shiv Sena.

In 2005, when Narayan Rane rebelled against Shiv Sena with the support of Sonia Gandhi, Narayan Rane could barely take 10 MLAs with him, despite being the leader of the legislative party. They were not even recognised as a separate faction, but Narayan Rane faced the by-election after resigning from his MLAs. The only difference between the rebellion of Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane was that Chhagan Bhujbal had to hide after the rebellion to avoid the fury of the Shiv Sainiks. While Narayan Rane took to the road and fought the Shiv Sainiks. When Narayan Rane went to Kankavli to contest the by-election, many Shiv Sainiks who had gone there were thrashed by Rane's supporters. Fearing Narayan Rane, Uddhav Thackeray's personal secretary, Milind Narvekar and Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai had to provide security. Nevertheless, Uddhav Thackeray was overshadowed by Narayan Rane in that rebellion. 

The same was the case with Raj Thackeray. Most experts who knew Shiv Sena believed that Raj Thackeray would take over the party. However, due to the presence of Balasaheb Thackeray himself and the hard work of Uddhav Thackeray, Raj Thackeray could not perform as expected by the experts. He failed in the 2007 Mumbai municipal elections. In 2008, when Raj Thackeray raised the issue of 'Marathi Manus' fiercely and started calling Shiv Sena a party of non-Marathis because of Hindutva, away from the Marathi issue. Then Raj Thackeray successfully established the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to some extent in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. 

Even then, Shiv Sena had more than three times the MLA strength of Raj Thackeray. Shiv Sena's 45 MLAs were elected as compared to 13 of the MLAs of Raj Thackeray. Later on, Raj Thackeray was marginalised.

This time, however, the circumstances have completely changed. Of the total 55 MLAs of Shiv Sena, 40 are with Eknath Shinde. This figure is likely to increase further. When Uddhav convened the national executive after Shinde's rebellion, how five of the seven district chiefs of the Mumbai campus appeared in favour of Eknath Shinde clearly indicated that Uddhav Thackeray had lost control of Shiv Sena. 

Even among the MPs, Eknath Shinde seems to have a bigger edge over Uddhav Thackeray. Since administrators have been appointed in most of the metropolitan municipalities of Maharashtra due to the completion of the time period, so who has the edge among the councillors? It is not possible to tell the exact number yet. It is certain that Shiv Sena-controlled municipal corporations like Thane, Kalyan-Dombivli, Ulhasnagar and Bhiwandi-Nizampur are now under the control of the Shinde faction. In Mumbai, too, one should not be surprised if the Shinde faction overshadows the Uddhav Thackeray faction.

The corporators who will no longer see the possibility of victory in alliance with the Congress and NCP will not hesitate to take Shinde's help. Due to how the legislative party is dominated by Eknath Shinde, the MLAs of the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Mumbai, whether Aditya Thackeray, Sunil Raut, Sunil Prabhu or Ravindra Vaikar, are also facing a constitutional crisis on their membership. If the Eknath Shinde faction stakes a claim before the Election Commission in the coming days, Uddhav Thackeray will have to struggle to retain his party's election symbol and organisation.

When Hemchandra Gupte rebelled against Shiv Sena, no one at the national level gave importance to this rebellion. When Chhagan Bhujbal rebelled from Shiv Sena, he could not shake the party cadre. Shiv Sena's cadre did not budge even when Narayan Rane went out of the party challenging Uddhav Thackeray, but this time wherever Shiv Sainiks showed enthusiasm to demonstrate, the rebels of Shiv Sena appeared to be many times stronger than them.

Whether it is Gulabrao Patil in Jalgaon, Bharat Gogavale in Konkan, Tanaji Sawant in Marathwada or Shrikant Shinde in Kalyan, his supporters are taking a beating on Shiv Sainiks. Neither the Legislative party of Shiv Sena is strong nor their fighting army on the road. 

In such a situation, it is possible that Eknath Shinde will be able to control the entire Shiv Sena along with the legislative party of Shiv Sena. If this is possible, Shiv Sena will follow the thoughts of Balasaheb Thackeray but will be free from the Thackeray dynasty. On July 4, Rahul Narvekar, the newly-elected speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly, issued a letter informing that Eknath Shinde will be Shiv Sena Legislative party leader and Bharat Gogawale its Chief whip. With the rebel faction getting the chief whip post, the pressure mounted on those left in the Thackeray camp. If their 16 MLAs refused to follow the whip, they faced disqualification. Under these conditions, it is critical to observe if Uddhav Thackeray can hold the organisation under his control despite the situation being stacked against him.

The author is the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Views expressed are solely of the author

Also Read: Autorickshaw outpaced Mercedes car: Maha CM Shinde's dig at Uddhav Thackeray

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