New Delhi: When the Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde turned 58 on 9 February, Thane was abuzz about a poster that had “future chief minister” written under his picture. Even after the last assembly elections in 2019, Thane’s Shiv Sainiks had put up posters and banners in Thane declaring him the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
On Thursday, this became a reality when BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis took everyone by surprise by announcing Shinde as the next Maharashtra chief minister.
“I was never after position and power,” said Shinde at a press conference in Mumbai, referring to himself as “Balasaheb’s Shiv Sainik”.
When Shinde rebelled against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government on 21 June — initially with over a dozen MLAs, but the number grew — many in Maharashtra’s political circles told ThePrint they saw it coming, even if they were caught unawares by the “suddenness of it”.
As of mid-June, Shinde was seen around Sena scion Aaditya Thackeray when the latter visited Ayodhya.
Sources in the Shiv Sena said Shinde had been upset about being “sidelined” by the party high-command for some time now, especially since “juniors“ like Aaditya, the son of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, and Anil Parab, both ministers in the government, “starting to call the shots in the party and the government”.
Maharashtra’s MVA government — an alliance of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress under Uddhav Thackeray, the chief of the Sena who resigned as CM Wednesday evening — had a total strength of 152 (169 including independent candidates) before the rebellion.
After Shinde’s rebellion, the Sena removed him as the leader of the House in the Maharashtra assembly and as the chief whip of the party, and pressed for his as well as the rebel MLAs’ disqualification, a matter that the Supreme Court will hear on 11 July.
‘Won’t go against Balasaheb’
In one of his initial statements after his rebellion, Shinde said in a tweet in Marathi that he and his supporters “won’t go against the teachings” of Bal Thackeray and Anand Dighe, the late Sena firebrand who was a close aide of the Sena founder.
“We’re Shiv Sainiks and Balasaheb has taught us Hindutva. For the sake of power, we won’t go against what Balasaheb Thackeray and Anand Dighe taught us,” the tweet said.
आम्ही बाळासाहेबांचे कट्टर शिवसैनिक आहोत… बाळासाहेबांनी आम्हाला हिंदुत्वाची शिकवण दिली आहे.. बाळासाहेबांचे विचार आणि धर्मवीर आनंद दिघे साहेबांची शिकवण यांच्याबाबत आम्ही सत्तेसाठी कधीही प्रतारणा केली नाही आणि करणार नाही
— Eknath Shinde – एकनाथ शिंदे (@mieknathshinde) June 21, 2022
A protégé of Dighe, Shinde, a former autorickshaw driver, has come a long way. A Shiv Sainik who headed a shakha in Thane back in 1980s, Shinde became a corporator in the Thane Municipal Corporation before becoming an MLA in 2004.
Shinde served two terms in the Thane Municipal Corporation, and has been a member of the civic agency standing committee for three years. He served as the leader of the House in the Maharashtra assembly for four years.
Since 2004, he has won four consecutive elections, while his son, Shrikant Shinde, is a Sena Member of Parliament from Kalyan.
Shinde is the Sena’s most senior leader in Thane, a satellite city of Mumbai and a stronghold of the party.
In 2014, when the Sena and the BJP fought the election separately, he was made the leader of opposition in the Maharashtra assembly before the parties eventually came together again. After they formed the government, he became a minister.
Talking about the differences between the Sena and Shinde, a source in the party cited as an example a conflict that arose over the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway. The party, the source said, had been split over the project since the time it was in power with former ally BJP.
Last month, the two parties were engaged in a credit battle over the 701-km six-lane Hindu Hrudaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg, the official name given to the expressway that passes through the 10 districts of Nagpur, Wardha, Amravati, Washim, Buldhana, Aurangabad, Jalna, Ahmednagar, Nashik and Thane.
The expressway, whose construction began in January 2019, has been developed by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which came under Shinde, who was the Public Works Department Minister at the time.
Sources told ThePrint that Shinde had been pushing the project but his party opposed it.
“But, ultimately, the party changed its stance,” said a source in Sena.
Sena sources said Shinde also wasn’t happy with Uddhav’s decision to break ties with the BJP.
“He’s an old Sainik from Bal Thackeray’s days. He hasn’t been happy with the Sena’s tie-up with secular parties even though he became a minister in the MVA government,” said another party functionary.
This report, originally published on 21 June 2022, has been updated to reflect the collapse of the MVA government in Maharashtra, and Eknath Shinde’s subsequent elevation as CM on 30 June 2022.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)