In a blow to the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena camp ahead of the October 5 Dasara rally, hundreds of activists and office bearers from the fisherfolk community of Worli Koliwada area joined the rival Sena faction led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
The setback is particularly notable given that Mr. Thackeray’s son, former Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray is the MLA of Worli constituency where fisherfolk constitute a significant section of the electorate.
According to sources, more than 500 Sena activists from Worli Koliwada switched allegiance to the Shinde camp as they were reportedly upset about Aaditya Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray “not being responsive enough” to their problems regarding the Mumbai Coastal Road project when the senior Thackeray was Maharashtra Chief Minister heading the erstwhile ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ (MVA) government.
They also presented a garland in the form of a ‘bow and arrow’ (Shiv Sena’s symbol) to the Chief Minister, hinting that Mr. Shinde and his faction was the ‘legitimate’ Shiv Sena for them and not the one led by the Thackeray clan.
Besides the activists from Worli, hundreds of other activists from other parties like the Nationalist Congress Party and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, office bearers and members of different outfits including several teacher organisations, made a beeline outside Mr. Shinde’s official residence ‘Varsha’ on Sunday to express their support for the Chief Minister.
“I welcome all those who have expressed support for our government. Many people from Worli Koliwada, too, have declared their support for us. This is because they feel that our government [BJP-Shinde-led Sena faction] can truly give them justice as a ‘common man’s government’ has been established,” Mr. Shinde said.
The Chief Minister donned the traditional Koli cap of fisherman and heard out the grievances of the fisherfolk regarding the coastal road project which has stalled owing to protests by the Koli community.
The 22-km long coastal road being constructed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is expected to significantly reduce travel time between north and south Mumbai. However, fisherfolk have been vehemently protesting the project as they feel it would ruin their livelihoods.
“The Kolis are the bhumiputras (sons of the soil) of this region. Our government will certainly take cognisance of their problems and resolve the ones pertaining to the Coastal Road project… I will certainly come to the jetty and meet you,” Mr. Shinde assured the Kolis who had come to declare their support for him.
Given that the majority of Sena MLAs and MPs have already deserted the Thackeray camp and shifted their allegiances to Mr. Shinde, the Chief Minister’s camp is perceiving the ‘defection’ of party cadre like the Worli Kolis as the final nail in the coffin for the Thackeray faction.
The queue of eager activists outside the CM’s residence is also doubling up as a show of strength for Mr. Shinde ahead of the Dussehra rally, where the prestige of both factions is on the line.
The defections of the party cadre come amid widespread speculation that Uddhav Thackeray’s closest aide and long-time confidante Milind Narvekar could move to the Shinde camp.
On Saturday, Minister Gulabrao Patil from the Shinde group claimed that Mr. Narvekar was allegedly “on his way” to join their fold.
While the Uddhav camp has denied these suggestions, blaming the Shinde camp for deliberately spreading confusion, Mr. Narvekar has maintained conspicuous contact with Mr. Shinde even after the split in the party.
Mr. Shinde had even visited Mr. Narvekar’s house during the Ganesha festival.
Meanwhile, Buldhana MP and Shinde faction Prataprao Jadhav claimed today that at least three-four MLAs and three of the six remaining MPs of the Thackeray camp were in close contact with the Mr. Shinde but that “certain problems” were preventing them from joining the ruling alliance.