Why Eknath Shinde and rebels invoke Anand Dighe

Updated on Jun 25, 2022 03:30 AM IST

Anand Dighe who embodied the idea of a hardcore Sainik was a skilled organiser, and built the party up from scratch in the Thane-Dombivali and Kalyan belt

Eknath Shinde (left) was mentored by Anand Dighe, a Shiv Sena leader from Thane who died in 2001.
Eknath Shinde (left) was mentored by Anand Dighe, a Shiv Sena leader from Thane who died in 2001.

Poster art in Mumbai speaks much louder than any leader’s rhetoric in Mumbai, and if one reads the iconography that has sprung up here like wild bloom in the monsoon rain, the message is loud and clear: Anand Dighe, a Sena leader from Thane who died in 2001, has become the new poster boy in the Sena pantheon, in places even overshadowing party founder Balasaheb Thackeray.

The reason for Dighe’s resurrection thus is not far to seek. He was Eknath Shinde’s mentor, opening all doors for his meteoric rise from auto rickshaw driver to all-powerful minister. Dighe who embodied the idea of a hardcore Sainik was a skilled organiser, and built the party up from scratch in the Thane-Dombivali and Kalyan belt. Under his leadership, this entire region became a Shiv Sena bastion as he groomed a strong second-rung of leadership, including Eknath Shinde.

Dighe’s aggressive brand of politics and his uncompromising loyalty to the party led to his arrest in connection with the murder of Mohan Khopkar, a Shiv Sena corporator who had voted against the party’s candidate in mayoral election in Thane city which led to Sena losing. After the loss, Dighe declared that those who had betrayed the party would not be spared. Khopkar was murdered shortly after Dighe’s exhortation and Dighe was booked under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. Dighe however received a groundswell of support with Shiv Sena alleging a witch-hunting by the then Congress government in the state.

His popularity only grew after his release from jail, and led to his complete domination of politics in the district until his death from a cardiac arrest following an accident in which his vehicle was crushed by a truck coming from the opposite direction in 2001. His following among Sainiks was such that they ransacked the Singhania Hospital in Thane where he had been taken. Several top Sena leaders including Uddhav Thackeray had to be moved out of Thane to prevent any untoward incident as Sena workers went berserk.

“Even two decades after his death, Dighe still remains a charismatic figure in Thane city and the district with a significant section of Sena workers who see him as a demigod,” says senior journalist Milind Ballal, who knew Dighe closely. “He ran a rough and ready justice system for the poor who were not entertained by authorities, he mentored scores of party workers and it’s no wonder that Eknath Shinde invokes his name as he rebels against the party,” says Ballal. While Shinde may swear allegiance to Bal Thackeray, Uddhav will always have a greater claim on the legacy of the Sena founder. That’s not the case with Dighe, and Eknath Shinde was actually mentored by him so its easy to capitalise on that relationship. It was Shinde who had a key role in the production of a biopic on Dighe that released a few weeks ago which prepared the ground for a renewed interest in Dighe’s life.

When he was alive, Dighe’s growing popularity had created some unease for the SEna top leadership especially given the talk that Dighe would be right person to lead Shiv Sena after Balasaheb Thackeray. If not him, his protégé now stakes a serious claim to the Sena mantle.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Shailesh Gaikwad is senior associate editor, Hindustan Times. He heads the political bureau in HT’s Mumbai edition. In his career of over 18 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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