After his government was toppled by rebels from within his party, Uddhav Thackeray urged Shiv Sainiks not to indulge in violence or come in the way of those in the Shiv Sena who had joined hands with incumbent Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and the BJP. His party workers heeded the appeal.
But, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections and other civic polls expected to be held in the coming months, the restraint seems to be finally giving way to friction between the Sena and the faction led by Shinde. The BJP is looking to improve on its performance in the 2017 BMC polls when it bagged 82 seats, just two short of the Sena’s tally of 84, and is looking to utilise the Shinde-led rebels and the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to erode the Shiv Sena’s Marathi vote bank.
Party workers from both Sena factions initially clashed in the Prabhadevi area of central Mumbai shortly after Saturday midnight before getting into a scuffle outside the Dadar police station sometime later. Outside the station, rebel Sena MLA Sada Sarvankar allegedly fired a round from his licensed weapon. Both sides then filed police complaints against each other, but the police first booked and arrested Sena workers.
The move infuriated Shiv Sena leaders and workers. Several party leaders and workers, including MP Arvind Sawant, Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Parishad Ambadas Danve, senior leader Diwakar Raote, MLA Anil Parab, MLC Sachin Ahir, and former Mumbai mayors Kishori Pednekar and Visakha Raut, gathered outside the Dadar station and staged a sit-in to press their demands, including action against Sarvankar.
Since the rebellion by Shinde, a lack of any response from the cadre loyal to Uddhav had raised questions about the support that the beleaguered party still enjoys, with many political observers saying that like most of their leaders Shiv Sena workers too had shifted to Shinde’s side. But the recent clash showed that the Uddhav-led Sena can still muster up a show of strength in Mumbai, where it has been in power for almost three decades.
After the Sena workers arrested during the clash were released on bail, they visited Matoshree, the Thackeray family residence, met Uddhav, and clicked photos with him. The former CM’s son and Worli MLA Aaditya Thackeray said Sena workers were the party’s “Brahmastra”, referring to a newly released movie. “In the Prabhadevi incident, Shiv Sainiks showed they are the party’s ‘Brahmastra’ and no one is bigger than them. Shiv Sainiks are the real strength of the party and Shiv Sena is a family,” he said.
According to observers, the Sena leaders’ decision to throw their weight behind the workers involved in the clash and the praise from the Thackerays is likely to boost the morale of the cadre and this episode indicates that the Shiv Sena will not remain as quiet as it has been since the rebellion.
“There is already unrest in the Shiv Sena cadre due to the rebellion,” said a political observer. “As there is a mobilisation of cadre during the festive season, the tussles are becoming inevitable at least where there is a strong presence of Shiv Sainiks. The support shown by the senior leaders of the party, including Uddhav Thackeray, after the Sena workers were arrested, may now further boost the morale of the cadre and the clashes will increase in the future as the elections draw near.”
Arvind Sawant accused the Shinde group and the government of bullying Sena workers and warned that if it continued they would “show what the old Shiv Sena is”.
“Shiv Sainiks are calm because of party president Uddhav Thackeray’s appeal,” said the MP. “We do not want the atmosphere in the state to deteriorate. However, if this hooliganism continues, we will show what the old and real Shiv Sena is. MLA Sada Saravankar opened fire in Prabhadevi However, there was no action even after that.”
Political analyst Sanjay Patil said, “We are likely to see more such clashes in the future as elections are around the corner and there is still a huge presence of the Sena cadre at least in Mumbai, which will lead to clashes whenever there is a mobilisation of cadres.”