In the midst of the political turmoil roiling the Shiv Sena and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, a remarkable analogy has been drawn between Sena president and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s tense face-off with his challenger Eknath Shinde and party founder Bal Thackeray’s strained ties with Shinde’s mentor Anand Dighe.
Just like Uddhav and his son Aaditya Thackeray marginalised Shinde in the Sena and government affairs despite the latter’s unofficial No. 2 position in the party, Bal Thackeray also sought to sideline the Thane Sena strongman Dighe after getting wary of his rising popularity.
Dighe, who began his career in the Sena from the grass-roots level, died of heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49 after he met with an accident.
Party old-timers point out that like Bal Thackeray Dighe never fought any elections and was mostly engaged in the affairs of the party’s Thane unit. Many locals looked up to him as a “problem-solver” as they used to flock to his “darbar” at Thane’s Tembhi Naka to seek his help with school-college admission for their children, hospitalisation, property disputes, among other things. He often used to summon various rival parties by issuing them chits under the aegis of a body called “Grahak Seva Manch”. A section of people also flayed Dighe’s bid to treat Thane as his “fiefdom” though, questioning his “extra-judicial manner of functioning”.
The Thane police did not interfere with Dighe’s activities. In fact, successive police commissioners used to meet him as a “courtesy call” after taking over their charge in the city.
Dighe first shot into limelight in the 1980s by claiming that the Haji Malang shrine near Kalyan was dedicated to the Nath-Panthi sect swamis, even as the Muslim community maintained that it was dedicated to Haji Malang baba. Dighe was a Nath-Panthi himself and wore several rings in his fingers.
Another agitation that he later kicked off was to claim Hindus’ rights over the Durgadi fort in Kalyan. Dubbed as “Dharmaveer”, he also used to organise the Navratri and Ganesh festivals on a large scale.
In 1989, a Thane corporator Shridhar Khopkar was killed due to cross-voting in favour of the Congress in the city mayoral polls. Dighe was later arrested in connection with this murder case under the then draconian Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) and was in jail for a long time.
Remembering Dighe, Sena deputy leader Shishir Shinde said, “He used to work till 3 am for the people. I recall that Dighe was injured in a lathi charge at Bhayander and got his leg fractured in the 1980s and Balasaheb Thackeray personally went to see him.’’
After taking over as the Sena’s Thane district chief in the mid-80s, Dighe managed to get the Thane parliamentary constituency from the BJP during the seat-sharing negotiations between the two allies.
A local corporator, Shinde was one of Dighe’s aides. He was later appointed as Leader of the House in the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC). Apart from the TMC, Dighe also held influence in the civic bodies in Kalyan Dombivali, Ambernath, Navi Mumbai, Mira Bhayander Ulhasnagar, Bhiwandi Nizampur, Vasai, Virar, NallaSopara, Naigaon, Palghar and Dahanu.
This however also put him on a collision course with Thackeray Senior, who apprehended that he was getting too powerful and thus started clipping his wings over various matters. Dighe and Thackeray belonged to the same caste, CKP (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu), and many Sainiks in Thane saw the former as an alternative to Thackerays.
After coming to power in Maharashtra in 1995, the Sena-led government appointed T Chandrashekhar as the TMC commissioner. The civic body then launched a massive demolition exercise to widen the city roads, which was opposed by Dighe. But Thackeray Sr supported Chandrashekhar in his tussle with Dighe on this matter. The selection of candidates for the 1997 TMC polls also witnessed the shrinking of Dighe’s authority.
Similarly, Shinde’s relations with Thackerays went sour in recent years. Though he has been the urban development minister, it was the Yuva Sena leader and environment minister, Aaditya Thackeray, who called the shots in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), even though Shinde was its chairman. In the urban development department too, many orders given by Shinde were stayed by the Thackerays.
A chain smoker, Dighe met with an accident in Thane district in 2001 and was admitted to the Singhania hospital. He subsequently died due to heart attack in the hospital. After his death, the Sena sliced the party leadership of Thane city and district, carving dual posts for the units. Shinde, however, emerged as the undisputed party leader of the entire district in due course.
Recently, a Marathi film on Dighe’s life, titled “Dharmaveer”, was released in theatres, which was funded by Shinde. The film proved to be a hit, with Shinde arranging a show for many people including his cabinet colleagues. He had been so influenced by his mentor that he also tried to adopt his looks and appearance. And, like Dighe Shinde is also known to be a skilled party organiser too.
Suhas Godse, a senior president in a leading industrial house who had worked with the Singhania group when Dighe died, said, “Dighe looked after people with a heavy hand and a soft heart. I know for a fact that he did not make money for himself.”
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