Who is Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde and how did he rise through the ranks?
Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde, 58, who has plunged the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government into a crisis, has come a long way since his days as a rickshaw driver in Thane. He arrived in the city as a teenager from the Javali taluka in Satara before joining the Shiv Sena. He rose through the ranks after launching a labour union for the party.
In 1997, Shinde was elected to the Thane Municipal Corporation before a personal tragedy struck. Two of his children, Dipesh and Shubhada, drowned in their village. He overcame the tragedy and became the Sena leader in the corporation in 2001. Shinde was soon deputed for the party’s work across Thane, which helped him build a base in the region.
Shinde filled the vacuum in the party following his mentor Anand Dighe’s death in a road accident in 2001. He was elected to the assembly in 2004 and established a hold over the party’s organisation.
Shinde bolstered the party’s ranks in Mumbai in 2005 when Narayan Rane’s men took on Shiv Sainiks after the latter’s defection to the Congress. For the first time, Sena supporters faced a challenge on the streets.
The party banked on Shinde. Sena’s dependence on Shinde increased when Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s nephew, Raj, quit the party and launched Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in 2006.
The Congress, which was then in power, is said to have unsuccessfully offered Shinde a ministerial berth. But he refused to leave the Sena.
Shinde helped his son Shrikant, an orthopaedic surgeon, get elected to Lok Sabha from Kalyan in 2014. When the Sena snapped its 25-year-old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contested the assembly polls on its own, Shinde became the leader of the opposition. When Sena joined the BJP-led government, he became the minister for public works. Shinde’s stint as the minister is believed to have brought him closer to the former chief minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis.
When the MVA government came to power, Shinde played a role in bringing some legislators around. He is believed to have harboured ambitions of getting the top job before Uddhav Thackeray became the chief minister. Shinde was given charge of the important urban development department.
Shinde emerged as the principal trouble-shooter for the party given Uddhav Thackeray’s style of functioning and the dominance of the ally Nationalist Congress Party. He is said to have the ability to work round-the-clock and even managed to resume his education and complete his BA from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University. Shinde even enrolled for a master’s programme.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Shinde was on the ground, arranging medical aid and visiting hospitals. His team from the Shiv Sena medical aid unit also helped Covid patients get hospital beds and oxygen support.
There were reports that Shinde was sulking over attempts to undercut his influence and to meddle in his departments but his supporters maintained he will never quit the Sena.
In 2020, Shinde, who was upset over the interference in his departments, organised a show of strength at the residence of the chief minister.
Uddhav Thackery’s weakening hold over the administration and growing inaccessibility and frustration among some Sena legislators are believed to prompted Shinde to rebel. Shinde is reported to have made several trips outside Maharashtra to meet BJP leaders while claiming he needed to be in his native village for farming.
Unlike previous rebellions, Shinde’s rebellion involves a substantial number of Sena lawmakers. There have not been any mass protests either against him, indicating that some of the cadres may be sympathetic to his rebellion.