Eknath Shinde, the minister who would be the King, his mentor and his fascination for Tantrik rites

His mentor fell out with Bal Thackeray and was out to form his own party. Shinde follows in his mentor’s footsteps 20 years later

Eknath Shinde, the minister who would be the King, his mentor and his fascination for Tantrik rites

Sujata Anandan

Eknath Shinde, in the news for heading the rebellion against Uddhav Thackeray, was already the Number-2 man in Shiv Sena. But without the surname of Thackeray, he knew he could go no further.

Shinde was also a protègè of Anand Dighe, one of the most fearsome Shiv Sainiks. Dighe was a terror and Bal Thackeray used him to bring rebels to their senses. When Chhagan Bhujbal, currently an NCP minister, split the Shiv Sena and disappeared during a winter session of the legislature in 1991, Thackeray had authorised Dighe to bring him back, dead or alive.

But although Thackeray posted look outs at every airport and railway station between Nagpur and Bombay, Bhujbal remained traceless. Sena leaders approached newspapers in desperation, requesting them to report that Dighe was on his way to Nagpur from Thane. This, they hoped, would smoke Bhujbal out of his hiding and prevent his defection because Dighe had earlier dismembered a Shiv Sena corporator for cross-voting in the Thane municipal election.

Dighe however turned into a Frankenstein and Thackeray attempted to subdue him. Dighe was about to form his own party when he was hit by a state transport bus and died in the hospital. His supporters ransacked the hospital and burnt it down in the belief that he was eliminated on instructions from “above”.

Some 20-odd years later, Shinde financed a Marathi film on Dighe, portraying him as a Robinhood. The film, Dharmaveer, glossed over the fact that it was Dighe who started the economic boycott of Muslims in Mumbai.

That was among the many reasons for the rift between Dighe and Thackeray. Dharmaveer, produced at a cost of Rs. 5 crore, has grossed Rs.25 crore and Shinde has recovered his investment five times over. But the real purpose of the film was to position himself as Dighe's political heir, if not that of the Thackerays.

However, Shinde may have played his cards too early. His rebellion has not quite generated a groundswell of support for him among Shiv Sainiks even in his pocket borough of Thane. He is also unlikely to summon the kind of violence that his mentor could have unleashed. Nor does Shinde have the kind of grip Dighe had over the party.

Bal Thackeray would give complete charge of the districts to his deputies-- Konkan to Narayan Rane, Nashik to Chhagan Bhujbal, Navi Mumbai to Ganesh Naik and, of course, Thane to Dighe—who were the last word in their respective fiefdoms. Significantly, all of them quit the Shiv Sena barring Dighe. Even Dighe was planning to leave when he died.

Uddhav Thackeray however has retained overall control of his party in every district. So, there is likely to be split loyalties in Shinde's fiefdom too. In any case, barring Ganesh Naik, no other Sena rebel could succeed in overshadowing the Shiv Sena despite ruling party support to them. Shinde might therefore find himself left in the middle, having burnt bridges with both the Sena and the BJP. Shinde is said to excel in Tantric activities and unless he casts a spell over both Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis, he could be left with ‘Tantra’ and little else.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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