The battle between the two factions of the Shiv Sena—one led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and another led by former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray—is getting dirtier and murkier by the day. The controversy over Sena’s trademark Dussehra rally is only the latest in a series of spats between the two groups.
On October 2, M.K. Madhavi, former corporator of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, levelled a serious charge against Shinde and Deputy Commissioner of Police Vivek Pansare. (Elections to the NMMC, which is presently being run by an administrator as its tenure has ended, are due in October.)
Madhavi claimed that Pansare, on Shinde’s instructions, threatened to extern him from Navi Mumbai. In a news conference attended by Thane MP Rajan Vichare, a Thackeray loyalist, Madhavi recalled Pansare’s words: “Police will extern you and do your encounter if you do not join CM Shinde saheb soon.” He added that Shinde, too, had called him. “‘Don’t go to Matoshree (Thackeray residence), come to me. It will be beneficial to you and your activists. Your family and activists will not face any trouble,’ threatened CM Shinde,” said Madhavi.
Madhavi told THE WEEK that what he had told the media were not mere allegations or accusations. “I have stated only facts,” he said. “I am not joining the Shinde group, I am loyal to Matoshree.”
While Shinde has not responded to Madhavi’s claims, Pansare told THE WEEK that his allegations were baseless. “He is a politician with a criminal background,” he said. “He has 12-13 cases against him, including extortion and rioting. The police had issued an externment notice to him almost 10 days ago and that is why he is making these allegations. The police are acting as per the law.”
Madhavi’s claims are an example of how bitter the rivalry between the Shinde faction and Thackeray faction has become. To cite a few more examples in Thane and Navi Mumbai, the hotel run by Shiv Sena’s Navi Mumbai district chief Vitthal More was raided twice, claimed Vichare, as he had not joined the Shinde group. Similarly, a gymnasium started by the late Anand Dighe and run by Shiv Sainiks in Thane has been sealed, as the local cadre has remained loyal to the Thackeray faction. Also, a jhunka-bhakar centre (affordable meal canteen) in Thane, run by members of the women’s wing of the Shiv Sena—Samidha Mohite and Anuja Panjari—has been sealed on Shinde’s instructions, said Vichare.
During the Ganesh festival, a street fight broke out between Shinde supporters and Thackeray loyalists in Mumbai. During the fight, MLA Sada Sarvankar from the Shinde camp allegedly fired shots in the air. The police then summoned Sarvankar and seized his pistol for examination by ballistic experts.
In another incident that took place in Pune around a month ago, the vehicle in which Industries Minister Uday Samant was travelling was attacked and pelted with stones by Thackeray loyalists. Samant escaped unhurt, and his security was beefed up.
At a public meeting on the outskirts of Mumbai, Magathane MLA Prakash Surve asked Shinde supporters to break the hands and legs of Thackeray loyalists. “I will take care of the bail and other formalities, don’t worry,” he said. “Hit back hard if you are targeted by them.”
In Marathwada region, where maximum number of Sena legislators joined hands with Shinde, verbal spats and fisticuffs between supporters of the two factions occur almost every week, said a Sena insider.
When MLA Sanjay Bangar from the Shinde faction reached Anjangaon Surji village in Amravati on September 25, an angry mob of Thackeray loyalists shouted slogans against him and blocked his vehicle while it was negotiating a turn. Bangar was one of the last legislators to join the Shinde camp as he switched sides overnight, just before the legislative assembly session in July.
“They are threatening loyal Shiv Sena cadres, telling them that they will not spare us and teach us a strong lesson,” said Harshal Pradhan, Thackeray’s media secretary and party spokesperson. “This fight between supporters of two factions, both essentially Maharashtrians, is happening because the chief minister and his ministers are misusing power and the government agencies under their control and using the money gained from power. All this is happening with the blessings of the BJP, [which] is enjoying the fights. We are waiting for elections to happen. We are confident that all rebels will be defeated.”
Political analyst Abhay Deshpande said that the fight between the rival factions could intensify further as elections to municipal councils and municipal corporations are just a few months away. Both groups will want to assert their control across cities and towns ahead of these elections.
“The Thackeray group seems to be gaining lost ground, thanks to sympathy among Shiv Sena voters,” said Deshpande. “There have been violent clashes whenever any leader has quit the Shiv Sena with his supporters. We have seen this happen at the time of Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Ganesh Naik. The element of ferocity and violence is inbuilt in Sena’s style of politics. The results of municipal elections and Shiv Sena’s success rate in the elections will decide whether the situation and atmosphere cools down or remains tense till the next assembly elections.”