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Inside the Shiv Sena Mutiny: Dynasty Politics, Ideology, and Party Cadre

An inside story of how Eknath Shinde's rebellion against Uddhav Thackeray is changing Shiv Sena's anatomy.

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Politics
7 min read
Inside the Shiv Sena Mutiny: Dynasty Politics, Ideology, and Party Cadre
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Vilas Thakre, 45, is a second generation Shiv Sainik from Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district. A party member for the last 18 years, Thakre has donned multiple hats as far as his role within the Shiv Sena is concerned. He held the posts of a Shakha Pramukh in the Vidyarthi Sena (Shiv Sena's student wing), a Taluka Pramukh, and a Zila Pramukh before being nominated to the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Samiti – a district level committee working with the Social Justice and Special Assistance Department of the Government of Maharashtra.

Thakre's nomination to the committee, which he wears as a badge of honour, was made possible in 2020 with the approval of Eknath Shinde, former Guardian Minister of Gadchiroli and now the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. This, however, does not stop Thakre from expressing his disapproval of the rebellion staged by Shinde and 40 other Shiv Sena MLAs against party chief Uddhav Thackeray, which eventually led to the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state.

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"A true Shiv Sainik can never be a traitor," Thakre says as he recalls his younger days when Uddhav Thackeray's cousin Raj Thackeray quit the party to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in 2005. "When Raj (Thackeray) saheb quit the Sena he came to Nagpur to address a meeting asking the party cadre to join MNS. I was there at that meeting but I did not quit. Shiv Sainiks are not quitters," he adds.

About 650 km away from Gadchiroli, Amol Shinde, a Shiv Sena corporator in Solapur city, close to the Karnataka border, is an Eknath Shinde loyalist. "Our fight is not against the party, it is for the party. Eknath Shinde kept the flock together when Uddhav Thackeray wasn't available," he says. A former Congressman, Amol joined the Shiv Sena in 2015. In 2021, he was appointed the leader of Opposition in his municipal corporation.

"Ever since saheb (Uddhav Thackeray) became the Chief Minister, he neglected his party workers on the ground. The problems particularly aggravated in the last two-three years. Look at the NCP, even they were part of the government but (Sharad) Pawar saheb, Supriya (Sule) tai, and Ajit (Pawar) dada were always available for their party members," points out Amol.

Accusations of Uddhav Thackeray being inaccessible, ditching the Hindutva ideology, and playing second fiddle to the NCP and the Congress have been at the centre of the rebellion by the Shinde faction in the party. Thackerays, on the other hand, have claimed that it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which with the help of investigative agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) orchestrated the revolt by pressuring the MLAs to go against the party leadership.

Irrespective of which side wins this battle of perception, the churning – first of its kind in the 56-year-old history of Shiv Sena – will determine the survival and the future of the party.

The Quint spoke to party workers on the ground and political observers to understand the inside story of the Shiv Sena mutiny.

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Cadre, Confusion, Chaos

The political drama in Maharashtra that spanned over two weeks (21 June to 4 July) and led to the fall of the MVA government, saw the Shiv Sainiks vandalising homes and offices of the rebel MLAs as they camped first in Surat and then in Guwahati trying to convince Uddhav Thackeray to join hands with the BJP.

Major concerns were raised regarding the safety of these MLAs and 15 of them were accorded Y+ security by the Centre.

So, on 2 July when the rebel faction led by Eknath Shinde returned to Mumbai and no protests or violence by Shiv Sainiks happened on the streets of the city, it took everybody by surprise.

"The Shiv Sena cadre was angry but this anger was nothing as compared to what has been seen in the past," says senior journalist and author Sudhir Suryavanshi. "There can be two possible reasons behind this. Either this was a calculated call by Uddhav Thackeray who appealed to the party workers to abstain from violence or the cadre got confused if there was an internal understanding between both the factions of the Shiv Sena or if this was a real mutiny. The mystery is still unresolved," he adds.

Suryavanshi is the author of Checkmate: How the BJP Won and Lost Maharashtra, a book on the eventful 2019 Maharashtra Assembly elections.

Vaibhav Sawant, 34, the social media coordinator of Shiv Sena in Mumbai's Vile Parle, agrees with the first reason cited by Suryavanshi. "We were just waiting for one order from Uddhav ji and we would have jammed the highways. It's not a big deal for us. But if saheb (Uddhav Thackeray) says we shouldn't do something, we don't do it. It's simple," Sawant says. He, however, is also quick to admit that there is some level of confusion within the party workers.

"I won't deny that there is confusion, especially in constituencies of the rebel MLAs. If you got to Thane and speak to the cadre, they are siding with Eknath Shinde. Even in Mahim and Byculla, workers are confused. But if you step away from their constituencies, overall the cadre is supporting Uddhav (Thackeray) ji."
Vaibhav Sawant, Shiv Sena Social Media In-charge (Vile Parle)

While Sawant may claim otherwise, the faultlines exist beyond the constituencies of rebel MLAs. In Solapur district, for example, the party won only one seat out of 11 in the 2019 Assembly elections.

Despite not being in power, the cadre in the district has already split into two factions – one which supports Thackeray and the other which supports Shinde.

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"We are aware that this split might cost us some elections in the immediate future, but in the long run it will save the party," says Amol Shinde who is up against Purushottam Barde, the Zila Pramukh heading the pack of leaders supporting Thackeray.

A local reporter in the district, on condition of anonymity, says that while the split in the party is quite clear at the base, it is interesting to note that the older people who've been with the party for a long time are sticking with the Thackerays while those who've joined the party in the last seven-eight years or are younger in age are inclining towards Eknath Shinde.

It is interesting to note that despite their inclinations towards different factions of Sena, neither Vilas Thakre nor Vaibhav Sawant or Amol Shinde claim that ideology is at the core of the rebellion within the party – a claim heavily endorsed by Eknath Shinde and the BJP.

Lessons From The Past

Eknath Shinde's revolt against the Shiv Sena leadership and his climb to the chief ministerial chair has only one precedent in the history of politics in the state — the Sharad Pawar rebellion. In 1978, Pawar along with 38 other MLAs revolted against the then Congress government led by Vasant Patil. The NCP supremo then formed the government with the help of Janata Party to become the youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

The Shiv Sena itself has had its fair share of revolts in the past. In 1991, Balasaheb Thackeray's close aid Chhagan Bhujbal rebelled with 18 other MLAs, and 15 years later, the party saw back to back exit of two tall leaders – Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane. Experts, however, feel that Shinde's rebellion might damage the party beyond repair.

Drawing a parallel between the working style of Bal Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray, Suryavanshi says, "Bal Thackeray in his speeches communicated directly with his cadre. Uddhav, on the other hand, is more managerial in his approach. He works like a CEO of the company. This approach has its limitations. In power politics, one must be shrewd and cunning."

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Sujata Anandan, senior journalist and author, agrees that the working style of Uddhav Thackeray is different from that of his father. She, however, also points out that the Shiv Sena of Bal Thackeray was different from the one under Uddhav Thackeray.

"The Shiv Sena was more aggressive under Bal Thackeray. To put it mildly it was a militia of goons running amok. The Shiv Sena today is a milder version of the party that Bal Thackeray built," she says.

Anandan is the author of several books including Samrat: How the Shiv Sena Changed Mumbai Forever, which explores the life and times of Bal Thackeray and how his politics impacted and shaped Mumbai's working class.

She notes that the real cause of the rebellion might not be Uddhav's working style or his popularity among the party workers. "Chhagan Bhujbal managed a rebellion in those days under Bal Thackeray. 18 MLAs left the party with Bhujbal. Hence, Uddhav's working style might not be the real reason behind Shinde's rebellion," she says.

"Shiv Sena is a cadre-based party. In fact, contrary to popular perception, it is more cadre based than either the BJP or the Communist Party. It has a constitution. As per that constitution the Sena Pramukh (Shiv Sena Chief) is elected by a Pratinidhi Sabha which in turned is constituted by Shakha Pramukhs, Zila Pramukhs, Taluka Pramukhs, block-level Pramukhs. There are about 280 of these people. This Pratinidhi Sabha elects a Rashtriya Karyakalini (National Executive) which has 19 members. 14 are elected and 5 are nominated. During the last party elections (Eknath) Shinde could not get elected to these 14 members. Uddhav Thackeray had to nominate him to the executive."
Sujata Anandan, Author and Journalist

Anandan adds that soon after resigning as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Thackeray called a meeting of the National Executive and conducted immediate elections. "Everybody except some people close to Eknath Shinde turned up and Uddhav Thackeray was elected as the Sena Pramukh for the next five years," she says.

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What Next For Shiv Sena?

Party workers, journalists, and political experts The Quint spoke to unanimously agreed that the real extent of damage Shinde's rebellion has done to Shiv Sena will be clear in the upcoming local body elections including those for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) scheduled for later this year.

Amid the recent developments, it is pertinent to note that 66 Shiv Sena corporators from Thane and 30 ex-corporators from Navi Mumbai joined the Eknath Shinde camp soon after he took over as the Chief Minister.

"Corporators are joining Shinde because they are out of term and seeking re-election. The real test for the rebel MLAs will be to see if they manage to win their seats in the next elections. We have observed in the past that Shiv Sainiks find it hard to survive in a political environment outside the Sena fold," Anandan explains.

Suryavanshi, on the other hand, feels that sentiments on the ground might change with time as Shinde remains in power. "Our political system is structured in a way that people at the grassroots gravitate towards power. With Shinde as the Chief Minister, party cadre might slowly move towards him," he adds.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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