Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

Eknath Shinde As Maharashtra CM Is A Masterstroke By BJP?

By choosing rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde as the chief minister, the BJP has pushed Uddhav Thackeray, the incumbent Shiv Sena chief into a corner and has launched a prolonged battle between the two for the legacy of Balasaheb Thackeray.

Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari administering the oath of office to Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari administering the oath of office to Shiv Sena's Eknath Shinde. Photo by Dinesh Parab/Outlook

With Eknath Shinde taking oath as the new chief minister of Maharashtra, his bete noire former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has been pushed to a far corner, politically. He is the incumbent Shiv Sena chief, while the leader of the rebel faction of the Shiv Sena will be heading the government.

This is probably the first time in the history of the 56-year-old party that the Shiv Sena chief is being remote controlled by a rebel leader of the party. The BJP, by making Shinde – the rebel – as the chief minister has struck at the very relevance of the Thackerays – Uddhav and his son Aaditya – in the Shiv Sena, a party founded by Uddhav’s father, Balasaheb Thackeray.

Probably fearing such a situation, Balasaheb was adamant that none of the Thackerays would enter electoral politics – a rule broken by Uddhav and Aaditya. Balasaheb preferred to be the remote control of the chief minister, a king maker rather than the king.   

Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis will be the deputy chief minister in the Shinde cabinet. He was touted as the “comeback CM” but will now be a second fiddle to Shinde.

This is a huge step backwards for Fadnavis who had in 2019 formed an 80-hour government with NCP leader Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister. This took place right after the 2019 Assembly polls when the BJP had emerged as the single largest party in the polls. The Shiv Sena, led by Uddhav, which had contested the polls in alliance with the BJP, broke off the alliance.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar had stitched together a coalition with the Congress Party and the Shiv Sena which ruled the state for two and a half years, until the rebellion over a week ago. Even as the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was being established by Pawar, his nephew Ajit Pawar, had in an early morning flight to the BJP camp formed a short-lived 80-hour government with Fadnanvis. Later, Ajit Pawar walked out of this government after his uncle and family members prevailed upon him and requested that he quit the government.       

In the present context Shinde, by promising to work in the framework of the Hindutva propagated by Balasaheb and by his constant references to the late Shiv Sena founder, Shinde is moving in to appropriate the political legacy of Uddhav and thereby the Shiv Sena.

The two power centres – rebel Shinde as the government head and Uddhav as the party chief – will create more confusion for the Shiv Sainiks than the earlier defections. In the case of former Shiv Sainiks, Chhagan Bhujbal, Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane they quit the party and joined another. In Shinde’s case he has appropriated Balasaheb’s ideology and continues to call himself “Balasaheb’s Sainik” - a term which will accentuate the power struggle with the faction held by Uddhav.

Twenty minutes prior to his swearing in, Shinde changed his FB profile photo inserting one that shows him sitting at the feet of a saffron-clad Balasaheb.

Shinde, a soft-spoken leader with a prominent vermillion tilak on his forehead is popular with the Siv Sainiks due to his accessibility. A politician with grassroots connect, he has nurtured Thane, his place of residence, and ensured the development of the city by concentrating on infrastructure building.

The Thane of yesteryears was a place where criminals from Mumbai were externed to and was also a place of ill-repute. The late Shiv Sena leader from Thane and Shinde’s political mentor, Anand Dighe, who was the party’s de-facto head in Thane with a following as big as that of Balasaheb, set in motion the rebuilding of Thane.

With the Shiv Sena ruling the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) for decades the development of Thane picked up. When Shinde took charge of the Shiv Sena’s affairs in the TMC, the development accelerated. He was a minister in the Cabinets led by Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray. His most recent assignment before the rebellion was that of Minister for Urban Development, a job he used to the fullest to develop Thane.

The biggest names in the infrastructure and real estate industry trooped into Thane – after finding Mumbai too crowded and congested – and started on rebuilding the city brick by brick. Today, like Mumbai, Thane has become a city of high-rises and state of the art public infrastructure. From a place for externed criminals, Thane has emerged as a beautiful city where people from across the country are buying real estate. Therefore, Shinde’s elevation as chief minister brings more joyous news to Thanekars than for people in the other parts of Maharashtra.

Shinde may deliver much beyond expectations as the head of the state, said many of those who know him. His performance as the chief minister will directly impact the Thackerays as Shiv Sainiks will now throng his doorstep instead of Matoshree, the suburban residence of the Thackerays. There is also unconfirmed talk that the Thackerays may have to face probe by the central agencies.

However, there is still the Damocles sword hanging over Shinde’s head in the form of the disqualification petition filed by the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray. In its order at an emergency hearing on the petition on Wednesday night, the Supreme Court, told the petitioners and the defendants that the Court will hear in detail all the points pertaining to the petition on July 11. The Apex Court also mentioned that the order of the July 11 hearing will have a bearing on the political events in the state which may have taken place during this period.

Shinde’s choice as chief minister is also a well thought of move by the BJP. A Maratha, he hails from Jawali taluka in Satara and moved to Thane to earn a living. His appointment will also quieten the rising decibels within the Maratha community who have been vociferously demanding reservation. In fact, the BJP had launched many protests against the MVA Government on this issue. 

Uddhav Thackeray extends best wishes to new CM Shinde, Dy CM Fadnavis

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday extended best wishes to new Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. 

Shinde, a rebel Sena leader, was sworn in earlier on Thursday, a day after Thackeray stepped down as chief minister.

“Best wishes to newly appointed Chief minister @mieknathshinde ji and Deputy Chief minister @Dev_Fadnavis ji. I wish you do a good job for Maharashtra,” Thackeray tweeted in Marathi.