THERE IS growing unease in the Shiv Sena over the likely induction of former state deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal into the party.
On Friday, banners cautioning the party’s leadership against inducting the NCP legislator came up outside the Sena Bhavan at Dadar in Mumbai and some other areas in the Marathi heartlands.
Invoking the past, the banners reminded that it was Bhujbal who had got Sena supremo (late) Bal Thackeray arrested. “People of Maharashtra can never forget the pain inflicted on saheb (Bal Thackeray). You (Bhujbal) stay where you are,” a banner erected by someone who identified him as a “Shivsainik” stated.
Inspired by Thackeray’s fiery speeches, Bhujbal, who was then selling vegetables in Byculla, had originally joined the Sena in the 1960s. He was later elected the Mayor of Mumbai and soon established himself as being among the tallest leaders in the party. He was elected from the Mazgaon Assembly seat for the first time in 1985 and again in 1990. But he quit the party when Thackeray made Manohar Joshi the Opposition leader in the Assembly, and joined the Congress. He was the first high-profile Sena leader to engineer a defection.
But the Congress lost power in the state for the first time in the next Assembly election, in 1995, and Bhujbal lost his own election as well. But his new boss, Sharad Pawar, made him the Opposition leader in the Legislative Council.
When Pawar formed the NCP after quitting the Congress, Bhujbal was the party’s first state president. After the 1999 Assembly elections, when the Congress-NCP formed the government, Bhujbal became the deputy CM. In 2002, he ordered the arrest of Bal Thackeray in a case against the Sena mouthpiece Saamana in connection with the 1992-93 riots. While the court let Thackeray off, the ties between the Bhujbals and the Thackerays were severed at this point.
But in the last few years, Bhujbal has tried to rebuilt the family ties with the Thackeray family.
A party source, who is close to the Sena leadership, said: “Talks between the Shiv Sena leadership and Bhujbal regarding his comeback have progressed, and his induction could take place within the next couple of weeks.”
The source, however, added some senior ministers — Subhash Desai, Eknath Shinde, Ramdas Kadam and Diwakar Roate — were reportedly not entirely in favour of the idea. Sources said that Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, too, has aired reservations. Citing the ongoing corruption case against Bhujbal and his nephew, Sameer, a former NCP MP, some leaders and cadres are “sulking” over what they see as the party’s “unnecessary favour to Bhujbal”.
But another source, who favours the move, said: “The leadership knows that Bhujbal brings substantial benefits to the party.”
Following the banners on Friday, the Thackerays are keen to first take on board leaders who are sullen. Most of the banners had disappeared by afternoon following the reach out, said sources.
Speculation is rife that besides Bhujbal, his son Pankaj, a sitting MLA from Nandgaon, and Sameer are also likely to be inducted. An established OBC face in Maharashtra, Bhujbal also heads the Akhil Bhartiya Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad. For now, Bhujbal has been denying reports that he is in touch with the Shiv Sena.
Meanwhile, indications that another former minister, Dilip Sopal, is on his way out of the NCP, came on Friday. Sopal, an MLA from Solapur’s Barshi segment, is also believed to be in touch with the Sena camp. On Friday, he skipped NCP’s election review meeting in Solapur. Another sitting legislator, Babanrao Shinde, who represents Madha, also remained absent, raising speculations of his likely switch over to the BJP camp.