Almost 150 days after he led a group of Shiv Sena MLAs to Guwahati by launching a rebellion against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena that resulted in the collapse of the Thackeray led MVA government, Eknath Shinde, now Chief Minister of Maharashtra, along with 45 MLAs, 12 MPs, several corporators, office bearers and other leaders of his faction of the Sena, reached Guwahati, the capital of Assam, on Saturday, officially to pay a visit to the renowned Kamakhya Devi temple and “thank the goddess for her blessings”.
The Kamakhya Devi temple in Guwahati is one of the oldest temples in the country. It is also one of 51 Shakti Peethas of Goddess Durga, and is home to ten Mahavidyas. The Kamakhya goddess is considered the goddess of desire. It’s also said to celebrate the tantrik sect of Hinduism, which attracts many faithful to the temple.
Shinde had earlier visited the temple in June-end, during his stay at a five star hotel in Guwahati along with rebel Sena MLAs and independent legislators who had pledged to support him. At that time, he had vowed to return to the temple to “express gratitude to the goddess for blessing them and fulfilling their vow of forming the government”.
A lot has changed between then and now. From leading a rebellion to becoming the Maharashtra CM and launching the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena by engineering a vertical split in the party, and finally, staking a claim over Sena-founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s legacy, Eknath Shinde has come a long way.
When he was leaving Guwahati in June, he had the support of 37 rebel Sena MLAs. With two thirds of the total Sena MLAs, he had more than the numbers required to buck the anti-defection law, but was unsure of getting the support of grassroots Sena workers and other leaders, and of their fate, once they had returned to Mumbai for the mandatory floor test.
But between then and now, Shinde has successfully formed a government with the support of the 110 MLAs of the BJP, and has managed to strengthen his faction of the Shiv Sena by structuring his party, opening shakhas and party offices in the state and forming the national executive of his party.
He is now fighting with the Uddhav-led Sena on even footing at every platform, be it in the courts, at the Election Commision and in the state by claiming his faction to be the real Shiv Sena that is following the path of Bal Thackeray and his idea of Hindutva.
In fact, it’s the Uddhav-led Sena that’s now faced with an existential challenge.
Apart from 40 out of the undivided Sena’s 55 MLAs, Shinde has now garnered support of 13 out of 19 Sena MPs, and has been recognised as the authentic Sena in the state legislature and the Parliament.
Since the rebellion, not only have party MPs and MLAs switched sides, but so also have hundreds of sitting and former Sena corporators in over a dozen corporations/civic bodies across the state, along with their supporters.
Apart from the elected representatives of the Sena, several senior party leaders, former MPs and MLAs, and even current office-bearers — from district presidents to Shakha Pramukhs of several districts and talukas across Maharashtra — have now joined Shinde.
Out of the 42 Shiv Sena district presidents, 13 have pledged support to the Shinde camp, along with the taluka pramukhs and other office bearers, which shows that Shinde has managed to gather the support of not only elected representatives of the party, but also of it’s office bearers and cadre, which is crucial, considering electoral politics in the state.
The large numbers of office bearers and cadre who joined Shinde have made his party stronger and has put the Uddhav-led Sena in trouble, at a time when Shinde has also staked its claim over the control of the entire party and its “bow and arrow” symbol before the Election Commision of India, citing the recognition granted to his faction in the Lok Sabha as well as the Maharashtra Assembly.
Following Shinde’s claim, the question of who controls the real Shiv Sena has reached to the doors of the EC. As a result, the EC froze the “Shiv Sena” name symbol in October, which is why Uddhav’s faction is back to the Sena’s three-decades old symbol of bow and arrow now.
In the interim, the EC has allotted a fresh symbol, a torchlight, and the name Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) to Uddhav’s faction, and two swords and a shield as symbol for the Shinde Sena, with party name Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena.
While the Shinde faction is claiming the Guwahati visit is to thank the goddess and fulfill the vow they had made while leaving Guwahati to form the government in the state, it does come at a time when there are speculations of unrest between Shinde’s MLAs and the BJP, with predictions of a midterm election being made by the Opposition MVA parties.
“The visit to Guwahati also comes at a time when the civic body elections in the state and BMC polls in Mumbai are around the corner. Shinde is trying to unite his leaders to win the forthcoming polls, to ensure that there’s no friction in the party,” a political analyst said, adding that though Shinde has been successful in keeping all the MLAs and MPs together so far, their real test would be during the civic body elections in Mumbai and other districts.