Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has divulged that the seismic fracture within the Shiv Sena was orchestrated with the covert support of the BJP, which not only engineered his ascent but also handed him the party name and symbol. As the battle drums echo over Mumbai, where six pivotal Lok Sabha seats loom large, Shinde’s alliance with the BJP has become his sword and shield. These areas, long seen as Shiv Sena heartlands, are now the crucibles where Shinde’s political destiny with the BJP-led coalition will be forged.

Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray’s faction are squaring off in three seats in Mumbai. Two constituencies will witness the age-old rivalry between the BJP and the Congress, while in one seat, the Shiv Sena (UBT) and BJP will battle head-to-head. These six constituencies are part of the 13 seats in Maharashtra slated for the fifth and final phase of polling on May 20, and Shinde hopes that “Modi magic” works in Mumbai.

In Thane, Chief Minister Shinde recounted the pivotal moment in his political manoeuvring. “When I completed the significant task (of splitting Shiv Sena), I informed the senior BJP leaders that my part was done, and it was their turn to act. Following this, they entrusted us with the Shiv Sena (party name) and the bow and arrow (party symbol). I extend my gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah,” said Shinde.

Sena vs Sena

In June 2022, a significant rift within the Shiv Sena led to the collapse of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government headed by Uddhav Thackeray. Shinde broke away with most of the party’s MPs and MLAs. Now, Shinde is relying on the BJP’s support to galvanise voter support for his candidates, aiming to maintain his relevance in Maharashtra and Mumbai’s political landscapes.

PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have embarked on an intensive tour of Maharashtra, with a special focus on Mumbai, proclaiming Eknath Shinde’s faction as the “real” Shiv Sena and branding Uddhav Thackeray’s group as the “fake” Sena. Political analysts suggest that the BJP must sustain the relevance of Shinde’s Sena beyond the LS elections, as the BJP aims to seize complete control of Mumbai by winning the upcoming Municipal elections.

Since 1997, the Thackeray family has dominated Mumbai’s civic body, which commands an annual budget exceeding ₹45,000 crore. Additionally, the BJP counts on Shinde’s Sena to keep diminishing the Thackeray influence in politics, particularly during the State assembly elections slated for the end of this year.

However, lacking mass leaders within their ranks, including Shinde himself, the Shinde Sena relies on Modi as its principal campaigner for mass appeal, say political pundits.

No Manifesto

Interestingly despite contesting 15 seats in Maharashtra, Shinde’s Shiv Sena has not released the manifesto. According to the Shinde faction there was no need for a separate manifesto as the party believes that “fulfilling PM Narendra Modi’s dream of viksit bharat” is the manifesto itself.

The Kalyan LS constituency is gearing up for a head-to-head battle between Shinde’s son, Shrikant Shinde, and Shiv Sena (UBT) candidate Vaishali Darekar-Rane. In Thane, incumbent MP Rajan Vichare of Uddhav Sena faces off against Naresh Mhaske of Shinde Sena. Both Kalyan and Thane are considered strongholds of Shinde, presenting a formidable challenge for the Chief Minister to maintain his grip on these key constituencies in the upcoming polls.