Eknath Shinde relies on connections in the epicenter of the fight for Balasaheb’s legacy

It is possible that members of the Shiv Sena, who were formerly united, are still unsure about which side to support with their votes. In the suburbs of Mumbai, in Thane, however, Shiv Sainiks often participate in protests organized by both sides.
An experienced hand adds, “Deep down, Sainiks know what is right and wrong for them and they will express it through their vote on June 4.”

The main question in Maharashtra’s LS elections is whether voters should remain loyal to Uddhav Thackeray or switch to CM Eknath Shinde. There are thirteen seats total where the two Senas are competing against one another. Furthermore, Thane, a stronghold of the united Shiv Sena and a quickly expanding urban cluster, is probably going to see a tight contest on May 20 as Maharashtra’s elections go into their last leg.

Sena MPs represent two of the district’s three LS seats: Rajan Vichare, Uddhav’s choice, and Dr. Shrikant Shinde, the son of the chief minister, Kalyan. The true heir to the late Sena leader Anand Dighe, who led the party’s expansion in the district under Balasaheb Thackeray, will be seen as gaining control over the area. Dighe has been elevated to godhood in recent times, thanks to a Marathi movie that portrayed him as the poor people’s savior.

Winning Thane is very important to CM Shinde, who spent the majority of his three-decade career cultivating the constituency as his birthplace and was mentored by Dighe. It will provide him the political clout to take on the approaching assembly elections in October, in addition to assisting him in maintaining his prominence in local and national politics. Naresh Mhaske, a close aide and former mayor of Thane, has been put up by Shinde as the Mahayuti candidate. Mhaske has the advantage because of the local municipal council, which does not yet have elected corporators, and because Shinde’s Sena controls at least two assembly constituencies in Thane city. However, the BJP’s backing, which also has a significant base here, is essential.

Indeed, before Shiv Sena won it in the assembly and local elections, the district was mostly a BJP bastion. It has been controlled by stalwarts like Dighe and Shinde, using a combination of Hindutva and local pride, for over twenty-five years, except in 2009. Naturally, the fact that the BJP hasn’t produced a notable leader in the state in a number of years has helped.

Traditionally an Agri-Koli and Marathi stronghold, the region is progressively becoming more multicultural as the industrial and services sectors grow and attract a migrant labor force. The Thane area is made up of several gram panchayats, eight municipal bodies, and more than eighteen assembly segments.
“This struggle will determine who will carry on Balasaheb and Dighe’s legacy. While Shinde has to defend his rebellion and maintain his power to improve his reputation with the BJP leadership, the Thackerays want revenge for Shinde’s alleged “betrayal” in Thane, the city where the party won its maiden municipal elections, according to one observer.

Shinde is counting on the BJP to shift votes. The BJP has four MLAs in Thane alone, and three more in Kalyan. Thus, MLAs operating under the direction of the state leadership continue to have influence in allocating assistance and initiating public works projects, even if the Shinde group has maintained influence in parts of the now-dissolved local organizations.

The chief minister was successful in convincing the central leadership of the BJP and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that his party could not lose Thane during seat-sharing negotiations (they also retained Kalyan, where the chief minister’s son is the current MP). Although it was anticipated that BJP cadre would comply, there remains underlying unhappiness.

A BJP fan expressed his annoyance, saying, “Supporters of MLA Geeta Jain from Mira Bhayender and former BJP MLA Ganesh Naik are miffed.” In another instance, Sena Kalyan unit president Mahesh Gaikwad was shot by BJP MLA Ganpat Gaikwad inside a police station. “Our karyakartas are still thinking about that,” he said. Gaikwad is being held by the courts. Mhaske, Shinde’s candidate for Thane, had made an effort to forge connections and engage with employees who have known him from his teenage activism days. But Rajan Vichare, a two-term MP and Thackeray ally, is a tough opponent. There is a tide of sympathy for the Thackerays, and they keep bringing up the loyalty issue when confronted with the Mahayuti’s organizational strength.

A supporter of Thackeray said, “We want to show how the traitors abandoned the Thackerays in their hour of need—something Dighe saheb would never have allowed.” On the other hand, Shinde’s close associates claim that he has successfully led Thane district for over twenty years, strengthening his ties with both the general public and netas. It is considered a benefit as he has access to both Union Home Minister Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi.
“His supporters are aware that he has a strategy for resolving issues brought up by the opposition, even though he may not say much,” says one fan who finds Shinde’s contacts with grassroots workers over vada pav and chai impressive.
Shinde often discusses his modest beginnings as a first-generation immigrant from western Maharashtra who made his fortune operating autorickshaws. Shinde has been making an impassioned plea at rallies while wearing his signature immaculate white clothes and rubbing shoulders with Shah and Modi. “You’ve supported me all these years,” he says. Even today, I anticipate this assistance,” he declares.

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