While taking oath as Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra at Raj Bhavan in Mumbai Devendra Fadnavis’ body language said it all. Gloomy-faced Fadnavis looked completely shattered and unable to hide his anxiety.
Fadnavis had put in all efforts to ensure a vertical split in the Sena and extended all support to rebel leader Eknath Shinde. Fadnavis and his supporters were expecting that Shinde will be his deputy, but it turned out to be a different story.
From a discreet silent leader to a strongman who split two-thirds of Shiv Sena MLAs, Eknath Shinde had emerged as a major player in BJP’s plan to demolish Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. BJP central leadership decided to sacrifice Fadnavis’ ambitions to take over as Maharashtra CM for the second term and promote Shinde to execute its game plan.
BJP’s game plan
BJP’s plan is to promote Eknath Shinde camp as the “real Shiv Sena”. Shinde has the support of more than two-thirds of the Shiv Sena’s MLAs in the State Assembly and hence his group will be recognised as Shiv Sena in the State legislature. Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena will have to battle in courts to keep intact his party and symbol. BJP wants to terminate Thackeray’s Sena from Maharashtra’s political map and Shinde could be used as a weapon against Thackerays.
With Shinde becoming Chief Minister many more Shiv Sena leaders and MPs are likely to leave the Uddhav camp. With the complete demolition of Uddhav’s Shiv Sena, Shinde’s Sena will follow the BJP’s plan of action in State politics.
Eknath Shinde comes from the dominant Maratha community and Fadnavis is a Brahmin. BJP wanted to send a signal to Marathas in the State that it is not just Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar who cares for the community’s political interests, but BJP was ready to welcome the community with open arms.
BJP had given Fadnavis a chance to be CM for five years and now it is a turn of a Maratha community member. In the 2024 Assembly and Lok Sabha, BJP wants to consolidate its Hindutva vote bank with the right combination of caste politics.
The only voice of Hindutva
Balasaheb Thackery used to claim the Thackerays had been proponents of Hindutva ever since his father Keshav Thackeray started a movement in 1922. In the last phase of his life, Balasaheb had turned wary of the BJP’s plan to dislodge the Shiv Sena from the Hindutva circle and monopolise the entire saffron space in the State.
In the very first Assembly session in 2019, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said, “Hindutva is with us today, it was with us yesterday and will remain with us tomorrow”. Uddhav has been questioning BJP’s monopoly over the Hindutva agenda. There could be a Hindutva-centric political narrative outside the BJP’s realm, he maintained. Those who fight the BJP or vote for other parties are not anti-Hindus and the party had no right to judge Hindus or Hindutva, Uddhav insisted.
Now, with Shinde on its side, BJP is set to propel the new agenda that hardcore Shiv Sena cadre was with the BJP. Uddhav and his Sena joined hands with “secular” Congress and NCP diluted the Hindutva.
“Shinde represents the real legacy of Balasaheb Thackeray and his Shiv Sena. So there is only one Shiv Sena and that is led by Eknath Shinde and all Shiv Sainiks must join him. This would be the BJP’s line of action to discredit Uddhav and end Thackerays’ domination over Sena,” admitted one of the BJP leaders.
BJP’s Trojan horse politics is likely to create a major challenge before Uddhav Thackeray and his Shiv Sena’s efforts to challenge the BJP with alternate Hindutva.