It was on June 30, 2022, that Eknath Shinde took oath as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after his revolt split the Shiv Sena and triggered the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
As the Sena-BJP government completes one year in office, it is evident that the Shinde faction’s rebellion and the subsequent shift in power marked a significant turning point in Maharashtra politics.
However, events of the past year have presented Mr. Shinde with numerous challenges such as rebuilding the party, establishing a robust organisational structure and managing his ‘ambitious’ MLAs. It is also incumbent upon the Chief Minister to maintain cordial ties with the top brass of the BJP in Delhi.
Despite the Election Commission granting the Shiv Sena party name and symbol to his faction, Mr. Shinde has secured the allegiance of only a fraction of leaders from the rival Sena (UBT) ahead of the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections. This indicates continued loyalty towards his rival, Mr. Thackeray.
Leaders of the Shinde faction, however, claim that their leader has adopted a calculated approach. “We are not in a hurry. Several leaders not only from the Sena (UBT) but also from its allies — the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress — are approaching us. We are waiting for his [Mr. Shinde’s] nod,” a senior Sena leader said.
Though the party claims to be the ‘true inheritor’ of Bal Thackeray’s legacy, it lacks a pan-Maharashtra face who can secure electoral benefits in different constituencies. With his influence remaining limited to Thane, Navi Mumbai, and Kalyan, Mr. Shinde is now dependent on the BJP for support. His group has also failed to establish a strong presence in Mumbai, the traditional bastion of the Thackerays.
The Sena under the Thackerays has wielded control over the BMC for more than two decades. Prominent BJP leaders, including national president J.P. Nadda, have declared that the Mumbai Mayor will be from their party.
Under the present circumstances, political observers say it is crucial for Mr. Shinde to establish a clear identity for the Sena, cultivate loyalty among its legislators, and attract more leaders from the rival faction to foster unity within the party.
On the other hand, the Thackeray group is trying to keep its flock intact and has forged alliances with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, and the Sambhaji Brigade. These tie-ups have secured it the support of communities that wield significant influence in rural areas. The Thackeray-led Sena is preparing for a comeback and argues that the public is sympathetic to its cause as they believe power was snatched away from it.
Supporters of both factions are of the opinion that instead of engaging in a war of words, their leaders should focus on consolidating their positions and winning over supporters ahead of the BMC polls and next year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
As the Shinde-led government enters its second year, it must confront the challenge of expanding the Council of Ministers (by sharing portfolios between the Sena and the BJP) and navigating the disqualification proceedings against several Sena MLAs, including Mr. Shinde.
There have also been palpable signs of friction between Mr. Shinde and his deputy and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis after a newspaper advertisement cited a survey claiming Mr. Shinde to be more popular than Mr. Fadnavis.