Mumbai: Most Shiv Sainiks in Mumbai are standing by the Thackerays despite the majority of the party’s 55 MLAs believed to have deserted the family to join rebel legislator Eknath Shinde in Guwahati.
Hours after he tested positive for Covid-19, Uddhav Thackeray made an emotional public address Wednesday evening. In his speech, the Maharashtra chief minister lamented that “his own people” had abandoned him, not allies Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
On Thursday, scores of party workers gathered at the Shiv Sena Bhavan, which is no less than a temple for Sainiks, to show their support for Thackeray. Although the Sena Bhavan in Mumbai’s Dadar has stood witness to countless protests and rallies, the Shiv Sainiks who gathered at the party headquarters Thursday displayed their strength in a relatively calm fashion.
Most Shiv Sainiks said they are still emotionally attached to the Thackerays and don’t see the family abandoning the party’s ‘Hindutva’ ideology as alleged by rebel MLAs.
While party workers across Mumbai seem upset with the rebels, a section of Shiv Sainiks in Thane — seen as Eknath Shinde’s stronghold — has professed their loyalty to the four-time legislator.
Banners endorsing Shinde have come up outside his residence in Thane. Both Uddhav Thackeray and son Aaditya Thackeray are missing from the posters, which carry pictures of Eknath Shinde, Balasaheb Thackeray and the late Sena strongman Anand Dighe.
“For Thanekars, Shinde has been very helpful. Anyone can go to him anytime and he solves their problems. We will always stand by him,” said Rahul Nile, a Shinde supporter. Nile told ThePrint that although it was the party that made Shinde what he is, the legislator, too, gave a lot to the Shiv Sena.
“But for us, we think above it, and for us, Eknath Shinde matters,” Nile said.
On Thursday, eight more MLAs, including Independents, joined the rebel camp, which now claims to have the support of 42 Sena MLAs. The remaining 13 MLAs of the Shiv Sena, meanwhile, attended a meeting called by party chief Uddhav Thackeray Thursday morning at his ancestral home, Matoshree.
‘Balasaheb asked us to take care of Uddhav, Aaditya’
Among the Sena legislators who have joined the Shinde-led faction is Sada Sarvankar, the MLA for Mumbai’s Mahim constituency. Angered by the news, one Shiv Sainik blackened a hoarding with the MLA’s face hung outside a Shiv Sena shakha in Mahim.
Located at a stone’s throw from the office of Sena mouthpiece Saamana, the shakha — which doubles as Sarvankar’s office and usually opens at 10.30 every morning — was closed when ThePrint visited. Other shakhas in the area wore a similar look.
“We trusted Sada Sarvankar, our MLA, but he betrayed Uddhav Thackeray and ran away. We will not forgive him,” said Sena worker Ashok Kelkar, as he clutched a can of black paint and a brush.
Recalling how Bal Thackeray, the founder of Shiv Sena, built the party brick-by-brick, Kelkar said: “They (rebel MLAs) will not stand a chance. They will fall flat because Balasaheb has created grassroots-level workers and group leaders. These people will not stand a chance. If elections are held today, they will even lose their deposits.”
Balasaheb had asked Shiv Sainiks to take care of Uddhav ji and Aaditya but they ran away, Ketkar added, referring to a video address by the Sena founder prior to his death in 2012.
‘Uddhav Thackeray has laid down what Hindutva means’
Suresh Kale, a Shiv Sainik for the last 56 years, said party workers are hopeful of the rebels’ return. “These all guys won on Shiv Sena tickets and if they rebel, definitely the chief would feel hurt, we are hurt too, but they will come back,” he added.
Asked whether he would support Thackeray or Shinde if push came to shove, one Shiv Sainik said, “Common Shiv Sainiks will stand with Balasaheb and Uddhav. We don’t care where the MLAs go.
“Regular, grassroots-level Shiv Sainiks will stay with Uddhav only. We will follow what he asks us to do.”
Kale also issued a counter to the rebel MLAs, who have alleged that the Shiv Sena has drifted from its path of Hindutva. “The Shiv Sena is still the same and has, in fact, matured over the years,” Kale said. “The party has not left the Hindutva cause. Uddhav Thackeray has laid down what Hindutva means and we haven’t left Hindutva. Whatever the opposition says, they can.”
Contesting the claims that Sena was being sidelined within the Maha Vikas Aghadi, Kale said he supported Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to join hands with arch rivals NCP and Congress to form a tripartite coalition government in Maharashtra.
“These are big people and if they have thought about it, it must be for good. We don’t see a problem with the MVA. So far, the MVA’s work has been good,” he said.
‘Sena gave voice to Marathi manoos’
Dashrath Dhayalkar, now in his 70s, has been a Sena voter since the time he first exercised his right to vote. Dhayalkar, who went to the Sena Bhavan Wednesday to show his support for Thackeray, said he hadn’t slept in the last 48 hours.
“I’m very disturbed by what is happening. Sena has given voice to Marathi manoos (Marathi people). So, I will stand by them. And these defectors have gone because of ED and other problems,” he told ThePrint.
Reiterating that his loyalties lie with Uddhav Thackeray, Dhayalkar added that the Sena chief must have thought through his decision to go with Sharad Pawar’s NCP and the Congress.
“We will stand by the Thackeray family till the end. Whoever joins them, we don’t care, we will not vote for them. But for Thackeray, we will always be there,” he added.
Subhash Navadkar, another Thackeray loyalist, said, “For Marathi manoos, Sena is everything. The reputation of the party and family is at stake. We have an emotional connection with the Thackeray family.”
Repeating Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s allegations against the BJP of misusing investigative agencies, Navadkar said the rebel MLAs are “fearful of ED (Enforcement Directorate). “Once you switch sides, you become clean,” he added.
“They all gained reputation on Sena tickets. They say they are with Balasaheb but Balasaheb hasn’t said to desert his family,” he said.
Meanwhile, massive police deployment was seen outside the Shiv Sena shakha in Mumbai’s Kurla after Mangesh Kudalkar, the local MLA, joined the ranks of rebel legislators Thursday.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)