From working in a beer brewery in Thane and driving an autorickshaw to make ends meet, to becoming the most powerful leader in the Shiv Sena after the Thackerays, to splitting the party and becoming Chief Minister, Eknath Shinde, 58, has had an eventful career.
In this crisis, two other qualities helped Shinde prevail: the fact that he has the loyalty of many party MLAs for being an accessible leader – especially when appointment at Matoshree got tough – and being generous with economic largesse.
The Shinde family originally belongs to Satara district and moved to Thane in the ’70s when Shinde was just a child. His start was with odd jobs, at places such as a beer brewery and fishery, apart from his stint as an autorickshaw driver, before he began his association with the Shiv Sena in the ’80s.
Shinde soon gained proximity to then Thane district Sena president Anand Dighe, who ran the local unit with an iron fist and was instrumental in making the Shiv Sena a dominant force in the area. As Shinde modelled his appearance too after his mentor, Dighe rewarded his loyalty with helping him win a seat in the Thane Municipal Corporation in 1997.
Dighe was also there for Shinde when he lost his children to a drowning accident in 2000, which caused him to withdraw into a shell. Dighe is said to have persuaded Shinde to come back to public life, making him the leader of the house in the Thane Municipal Corporation.
After Dighe’s death in August 2001, Shinde filled the void left in the Shiv Sena’s Thane unit. In 2004, he became an MLA, winning the Kopri-Pachpakhadi seat, and has represented the constituency for four consecutive terms.
Like Dighe, Shinde is a man of few words, not known for oratorial flourishes. What he has is an agitational and belligerent style of functioning and, till recently, deep loyalty to the Sena – all qualities that helped his rise in the party.
Outside the party, Shinde left his first political footprint when Uddhav, who had fallen out with the BJP, made him the Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly. Shinde was among the party leaders who helped patch up ties between the two parties. Shinde later became Minister for the Public Works Department.
Since 2019, when the Shiv Sena dumped the BJP to form an unlikely triumvirate with the Congress and NCP to form the government in Maharashtra, there were murmurs about Shinde’s unhappiness with the political arrangement. Many within the Shiv Sena and Congress and NCP feared Shinde could be the weak link. The impression was further strengthened as the BJP spared Shinde even as it went after all other major MVA leaders.
According to sources, leaders like Shinde also saw themselves stymied in the Sena, with Uddhav choosing to be CM and actively promoting his son in both the party and government – unlike Bal Thackeray who never took a position in government.
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According to Sena sources, the final straw for Shinde might have been the Shiv Sena’s decision to override his suggestion that the party contest the Thane Municipal Corporation polls alone. He was categorically told that the party would contest in alliance with the NCP and Congress, with Shinde reportedly taking affront to both the content and the manner of the communication, via leaders including Sanjay Raut.
On another note, Shinde has built a public profile recently with a film on Anand Dighe, which he is said to have helped produce. Shinde’s photo has been a prominent part of the publicity material that has been appearing in Marathi newspapers and television for the past few months. The film portrays Shinde as a courageous Young Turk, always in the forefront, relentlessly working for the common man.
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