Mumbai, June 21 : A fiery orator, a quietly efficient organiser known for taking spot decisions and a hardcore loyalist, Shiv Sena leader and Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde is suddenly in the dock for daring the party’s might and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance government in Maharashtra.
Once considered a dependable ‘trouble-shooter’, today Eknath Shinde, 58, himself has become a troublesome problem with the entire party out gunning for him.
At the same time, the opposition BJP almost looked at him like a potential messiah who would deliver them to the treasury bench.
Though rebels or rebellions are no strangers to Shiv Sena, the manner in which Shinde attempted to undermine the party – and the three-party MVA led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray – has stupefied his staunchest supporters.
Earlier, there were prominent names like Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane, Sanjay Nirupam and a family man, Raj Thackeray, besides many others at lower levels who quit the Shiv Sena in a huff, but the party was barely dented.
MVA leaders confess that Shinde’s act of weaning away around a dozen Sena MLAs without the alliance getting any inkling was akin to a ‘Houdini-style’ feat.
A Congress leader has asked why the police escort with each MLA failed to report the matter to the concerned authorities, especially when they were crossing state borders.
Later, it emerged that the MLAs had reportedly discarded their vehicles and police security to board a bus to Nashik, but it landed them in Surat in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Having once scalded its face in the 80-hour-long, two-man government in November 2019, this time the BJP is extra-cautious and has not jumped blindly into any political adventure till Eknath Shinde’s real strength is known.
MVA leaders informed that 31 Sena MLAs are present in Mumbai, another 14-odd accounted for, and all have declared they are not rebelling, leaving Shinde with barely 10-odd MLAs, plus some Independents.
By Tuesday afternoon, relieved Sena leaders claimed that several MLAs who were ‘misled’ by Shinde had got in touch with the party, the spouses of some proclaimed that the MLAs were ‘abducted’, and tensions seemed to ebb with even NCP-Congress MLAs not crossing the ‘Laxman Rekha’.
Amid reports of ‘proposals’ received from the rebel ministers, an emboldened Sena clipped Shinde’s wings by removing him from the powerful post of Shiv Sena legislative party leader and appointed senior MLA Ajay Chaudhri in his place.
Adopting a dual strategy of keeping communication lines open with Shinde and beefing up the MVA’s position while isolating the rebel/s may have helped as the mood turned from morose to upbeat by late evening.
The Sena leadership and the MVA partners also engaged in informal consultations to save the government though officially, the NCP-Congress maintained that it is Sena’s “internal issue” and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is competent to resolve it.
Several party leaders compared the Shinde drama to the secretive, pre-dawn shady attempt by Devendra Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar to come to power, which came to a nought as the NCP moved fast to collect its flock of MLAs who had strayed to the neighbouring states and north India.
Hailing from a Maratha family of Jawali in Satara, Shinde has had a modest beginning in life — a small transport business, doing odd jobs and moving to Thane.
There he came in contact with Sena’s former Thane supremo Anand Dighe and was deeply influenced by the Sena founder-patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray — by whose name he swears even today.
Eknath Shinde picked up many qualities of Balasaheb and Dighe, remaining soft-spoken, humble, helpful and down-to-earth, but shot up in politics to count among the Top 5.
His son, Shrikant Shinde, is a two-term MP from Kalyan.