In a fresh jolt to the former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction ahead of the State civic polls, several party bearers and corporators from this faction in Nashik defected to the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena on Friday.
Later in the day, 30 corporators from the Uddhav camp as well as other parties, including the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), joined Mr. Shinde’s Sena in presence of the Chief Minister himself in Parbhani.
The Nashik and Parbhani episodes come as a major embarrassment for Mr. Thackeray and his party loyalist, MP Sanjay Raut, who is on a two-day tour of Nashik.
Mr. Thackeray, too, is slated to visit Nashik by the end of this month or the beginning of February.
The office bearers from the Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray or UBT) in Nashik had joined Mr. Shinde’s faction in Mumbai and were welcomed by the CM before he left for Parbhani.
“Many people are coming and joining our party by following the ideals of [late Shiv Sena chief] Balasaheb Thackeray. This, in a way, is the best vindication of the work being done by the new government [formed in alliance with the BJP],” Mr. Shinde said, adding that a true government of the people had been established after he took the decision to exit the erstwhile ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ (MVA) government led by Mr. Thackeray.
Taking a jibe at the Thackeray camp, the CM said that the MVA had claimed they would “explode a bomb” ahead of the recently concluded winter session of the State Legislature and “expose” the Shinde-Fadnavis government, but that the opposition “had dug up a mountain and not even a rat came out of it”.
With a majority of the leadership of original Sena — 40 of the 55 MLAs and 13 of 19 MPs — having shifted to the Shinde camp, Mr. Thackeray is banking on ground-level cadre for support in the upcoming civic polls.
Earlier, in December 2022, a similar exodus of the cadre in Nashik was witnessed soon after Mr. Raut had visited the city in order to strengthen the Sena (UBT) faction.
Downplaying today’s defections, Mr. Raut dubbed the party bearers in Nashik who had switched loyalties to the Shinde camp as “non-entities” and “disloyal brokers.”
“The Shiv Sena in Nashik is intact. Who are these people who have supposedly moved there? I haven’t even heard of them. Even the Nashik public does not know their names. Just because a few ‘brokers’ have moved out does not mean our organisation is affected…The Shinde camp just catches hold of anybody and props them up as important leaders,” Mr. Raut claimed.
Hitting back at him, Shinde faction spokesperson Naresh Mhaske said it was Mr. Raut who had finished-off the Shiv Sena by taking a “contract” from the NCP and the Congress (Mr. Thackeray’s MVA allies).
“He dubs those who have joined us as ‘non-entites’…well, it was such non-entities who built the Shiv Sena and made it what it is,” Mr. Mhaske said.
In 2012, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) held the key to the Nashik civic body by emerging on top after winning 40 of the 122 seats in the Nashik Municipal Corporation.
However, by 2017, with the BJP in ascendancy in the State, the tide had turned with the MNS, whose fortunes were on the decline, coming last among the major parties in the civic polls held that year.
The BJP snared 66 while its then ally, the Shiv Sena, managed to get 35 seats, coming second. After Mr. Shinde’s revolt and the split within the Sena, the two rival factions are seeking to best each other in the 2023 civic polls.