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HomePoliticsThane’s Thackeray, Balasaheb’s ‘rival’ — who is Anand Dighe, Maharashtra CM Shinde’s...

Thane’s Thackeray, Balasaheb’s ‘rival’ — who is Anand Dighe, Maharashtra CM Shinde’s mentor

Eknath Shinde credits Anand Dighe — whom he mirrors in style of functioning and garb — with playing a profound role in his personal and political life.

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Mumbai: In May this year, Eknath Shinde — then a minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government — was seen enthusiastically promoting a reverential biopic of the late Shiv Sena leader Anand Dighe, whom he considers his mentor.

Dighe, who died in 2001 at the age of 50, was to the people of Thane almost what Bal Thackeray was to the people of Mumbai.

A little over two months after the release of ‘Dharmaveer: Mukkam Post Thane’, Dighe’s name echoed in Maharashtra’s political circles once again when Shinde stole a march over Thackeray by leading a rebellion of Shiv Sena MLAs.

Shinde, while doing so, maintained that he was safeguarding Dighe’s ideology and that of Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

In hindsight, the well-timed release of Dighe’s biopic — produced by Mangesh Desai under the banner of Zee Studios — seems like an attempt to remind voters in Maharashtra of Dighe’s life and legacy, and how Shinde, his protégé, is a natural claimant to it.

“The biopic seems like it would have been deliberate. The relation between Eknath Shinde and Uddhav Thackeray today is exactly the same as the relation between Anand Dighe and Bal Thackeray,” political analyst Prakash Bal told ThePrint.

“Dighe was becoming too big for his boots, and Bal Thackeray never liked him,” he added.

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Thane’s Thackeray 

Anand Dighe is largely credited with expanding the Shiv Sena’s roots in Thane and its neighbouring regions, namely, Kalyan, Dombivli, Ambernath, and Bhiwandi, among others. 

“Dighe saheb first became Shiv Sena’s Thane district chief in the 1980s and spread the Shiv Sena’s Hindutva ideology in the entire district, cementing the party’s base here and winning us several elections,” a former Sena corporator from Thane told ThePrint.

“Like Balasaheb, he never fought elections, but kept an eye on everything and knew the pulse of the people.” 

In Thane, Dighe built a persona similar to the one Bal Thackeray had carved for himself in Mumbai. 

Thackeray was known to keep the doors of his residence ‘Matoshree’ open to anyone who needed his help, while Dighe ran a public durbar every evening from his residence in Thane’s Tembi Naka, resolving grievances and settling disputes over a myriad of issues.

Author Thomas Blom Hansen, in his 2001 book ‘Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay’, described Dighe’s persona in Thane as “a mythical figure to whom superhuman qualities are ascribed”.

“Only in his early thirties when he took over as zila pramukh, Dighe has since developed into a kind of mythical figure to whom superhuman qualities are ascribed, including omnipresence and omnipotence. Dighe carefully cultivates this image of mystique and power. He is always on the move throughout the district in his jeep and rumour has it that he never sleeps in the same place twice,” wrote Hansen, who is the Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University.

Hansen added that Dighe’s “headquarters” in Tembi Naka in central Thane was “made into a huge reception hall, where from fifty to one hundred people wait every evening either to ask for or offer assistance or to express their thanks”.

Anand Dighe was arrested in 1989 under various sections of the IPC and the erstwhile Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in connection with the murder of Sridhar Khopkar, a Shiv Sena corporator who was accused of cross-voting that supposedly led to the Sena’s defeat in the Thane mayoral election.

Dighe was later let out on bail.

A decade later, Dighe was admitted to a hospital in Thane for a fracture in his leg. It was at this hospital that Dighe, then 50, died due to a massive cardiac arrest on 26 August 2001.

Distraught Sena workers set fire to parts of the hospital and vehicles parked there, and smashed ambulances and medical equipment. Their anger spilled over to the streets with Shiv Sainiks being accused of damaging buses and public property to mourn their leader.

Relationship with Bal Thackeray

In May this year, during a special screening of the biopic on Dighe, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray walked out before the climax. Among those present at the screening were Eknath Shinde and his parliamentarian son, Shrikant Shinde. 

Thackeray later told reporters that he walked out before the climax, which showed Dighe’s accident and subsequent death, as he found it “disturbing”. Uddhav Thackeray, then the chief minister, also recalled how his father, Bal Thackeray, was grief-stricken after Dighe’s death.

However, towards the end of Dighe’s life, political circles were rife with talks of the ties between Dighe and the Shiv Sena leadership becoming increasingly choppy.

While Bal Thackeray did not attend Dighe’s funeral, the Sena justified his absence by saying that the party chief was requested to refrain from attending due to “security reasons”. But there were whispers about how this might have been deliberate.

Political analyst Prakash Bal said Bal Thackeray was never too fond of Anand Dighe and his methods.

He mentioned one incident in particular when Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi, the then chief minister of Maharashtra, overruled the Sena-led Thane Municipal Corporation’s (TMC’s) resolution to oust T. Chandrashekhar from the post of municipal commissioner.

“Anand Dighe and his supporters had taken objection to Chandrashekhar’s demolition drive against illegal construction in Thane. Later, Bal Thackeray chaired a meeting of Dighe and other prominent Sena leaders from Thane in Mumbai’s Centaur Hotel, near the Santacruz airport, and told them that Chandrashekhar will stay put,” said Prakash Bal. 

Shinde’s ‘Dighe saheb’

Dighe groomed Eknath Shinde and helped him build his clout, said sources in the Shiv Sena.

In the biopic on Dighe, the Sena leader is shown choosing Shinde to implement a crackdown on a dance bar after some local residents complain to him about it during his daily durbar. 

Eknath kuthe ahe? (Where is Eknath),” Dighe is shown saying before Shinde makes his entry on a bike, with his supporters in tow. Shinde is then seen unleashing hell on the dance bar. 

In his first speech in the state legislative assembly after winning the floor test, Maharashtra CM Ekanth Shinde broke down while referring to Dighe and the latter’s role in his personal and political life. 

“When I lost my two children in front of my eyes, Anand Dighe saheb gave me strength,” said a tearful Shinde, referring to a 2001 boating accident in which he lost his 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

“Who should I live for? I decided I will only live for my Shrikant, my wife and my parents… Dighe saheb came home five times and I told him, now, I can’t stand again and do justice to your party. He called me at Tembhi Naka one day, put his hand on my shoulder and said, Eknath, don’t say no. You will have to digest your grief,” the chief minister said.

On Monday evening, Shinde — who has not only adopted Dighe’s style of functioning, but also his garb, comprising a thick beard, and rings on his fingers — left the Vidhan Bhavan to visit the Thackeray memorial at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park. 

He then paid his respects at Dighe’s memorial in Thane before heading home for the first time since 21 June, when he led Sena MLAs to rebel against the Thackerays.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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