It is a fixed match, says Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena

The ECI has recognised the Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena as the real one. It has allocated the 'bow and arrow' poll symbol to the party

Eknath Shinde (Left); Uddhav Thackeray at their respective Dussehra rallies
Eknath Shinde (Left); Uddhav Thackeray at their respective Dussehra rallies

Sujata Anandan

In a jolt to the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena, just ahead of the crucial elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the Election Commission has allotted the bow and arrow symbol of Bal Thackeray's party to the Eknath Shinde faction, thus recognising it as the original Shiv Sena.

It is not clear what the Thackeray faction will now do though senior leaders went into a huddle soon after the decision and there are indications that the Thackeray faction will continue to take the fight to both the people and  to the  Supreme Court which still has to decide on their petition seeking to disqualify 12 of the original rebels, including Shinde, who first split from the party.

An indication of their combativeness was visible in the initial statements as party MP Arvind Sawant who quit the Modi government on a call from Uddhav Thackeray in 2019 told National Herald, "This is an  attack on the Constitution of India. The institutions which are constituted to protect the rights of people and are formed to follow the Constitution are now sold out to the government."

"Sadly, these institutions have become slaves of the government. If they had to take this decision, what was the reason the ECI asked us to submit the affidavits of the office bearers and party members? We have submitted 20 lakh forms. Why did they ask us to do that if it was to be decided on the numbers of the MPs and MLAs. The question also is why did ECI take so much time if this match was fixed. This proves that it is a well planned and well conspired decision. Finally we will go to the Supreme Court of India for justice," Sawant added.  

Sanjay Raut, party Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson said, "It is now an open fight against injustice. Today is a sad day in Indian Politics. People had some faith in the ECI however now people have lost faith in it forever. We are fighters, we will go ahead with the new symbol. The Maharashtra people will show them who is the real Sainik." 

The Election Commission decision sets a new  precedent in the recognition of splits by rebels as in the past it has usually frozen the original symbols of various factions and awarded the factions new ones, for instance, during both the Congress and Communist Party splits in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The Shiv Sena party split in July 2022 when Eknath Shinde walked out of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray with more than 40 MLAS.

Since then both factions have been jostling for official recognition. In October last year both were awarded temporary symbols by the EC to tide over a by-election in Mumbai which the Thackeray faction won hands down with the Shinde faction shying away from contesting and handing the seat over to the BJP to contest, which also withdrew its candidate in view of the sympathy expected for Uddhav Thackeray.

The Shinde government has been postponing the BMC elections in anticipation of this decision with Aaditya Thackeray, the son of Uddhav Thackeray, challenging the rival party to fight them on a level playing field. However, these elections were endlessly put into cold storage and now the EC decision poses a new challenge to the Thackeray faction to go among the people with a new symbol while the old symbol is still in play at the polls. 

Sources reveal that the Thackeray faction had largely expected such a decision and has been preparing for a fight among the people for weeks.

However, what is confusing is the EC’s citing of then Shiv Sena constitution which clearly recognised Uddhav Thackeray as the Shiv Sena pramukh. The constitution was written during the Emergency to save the party from  derecognition as until then while it was contesting elections; and was still calling itself a social service organisation and not a political party. 

It may be noted that the SS pramukh is elected by a posse of shakha and vibhag pramukhs and, written for the party founder Bal Thackeray, the pramukh’s powers are absolute.

It may also be noted that Shinde had failed to have himself elected to the executive body by the party collegium and was one of the five members nominated to the executive by the pramukh who then was Uddhav Thackeray.

This decision now rearranges the electoral pitch in Maharashtra and it is a given that with high stakes in the BMC, the Shinde government will go all out to seek advantage of the party symbol whenever elections are announced.

However, the results will be an indicator of the popularity if either party and the Thackerays are likely to play the victim card to the fullest.

When Indira Gandhi was thrown out of the Congress by the old guard, she  had faced a similar situation at the subsequent polls. She had to adopt the symbol of the cow and calf against the widely recognised original symbol of the farmer with a bullock and plough.

However, she swept the subsequent polls, the original symbol was frozen as was the cow and calf after the second split in the aftermath of the  Emergency. The original symbol of sickle and hammer of the Communist Party of India, however, was frozen after their split and both parties got a variation of that each of which they use to this day with equal success.

The last word on the Thackeray Shiv Sena may thus not yet have been written.

With inputs from Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

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