Warring Sena factions seek control over Mumbai shakhas
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Warring Sena factions seek control over Mumbai shakhas

The shakha people believe the decision of the EC to take away the Shiv Sena name and bow and arrow symbol from Uddhav has greatly disappointed the old-time party followers.

After the Election Commission of India (ECI) allotted the party name and poll symbol to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s faction, the Shiv Sena’s shakhas or local offices — the ubiquitous, fortress-like structures spread across Mumbai that play a key role in the party’s day-to-day functioning on the ground — have become the new battleground for the two warring Sena factions with both keen to control the 227-plus shakhas that dot Mumbai.

While the shakhas were deemed as the Sena’s backbone and would attract a steady flow of visitors, including Sainiks who would spend considerable time there, the present split in the party has dulled the vibrancy that was associated with these shakhas. Many in these shakhas are finding it hard to believe that the Sena is not a united front anymore.

Umesh Karkera, shakha pramukh in Chembur, said that the Sena cadre is saddened by the EC’s decision to allot the party name and symbol to the Shinde faction. But they say they are not surprised by the decision.

“Some months ago, we were approached by members of the Shinde faction. They were confident that the EC decision would go in their favour. Now I feel they knew it all along that the EC would favour them,” Karkera said.
“How can you separate the Sena from the Thackerays? They are one entity,” he added.

The Shinde faction has opened a branch office near the existing Shiv Sena office in Chembur. So far, the former has not attempted to stake claim on this particular shakha, Karkera said.

In Vashi, one of the oldest Sena shakhas of the satellite town of Navi Mumbai, was set up in 1986. Old-timers said that the location of the shakha was chosen as it was the last stop for BEST buses and the shakha became a space for people to rest in the shade or have water from an earthen pot maintained by its members. Days after the EC’s decision to hand over the party name and symbol to the Shinde-led faction, the shakha now wears a forlorn look. One senior citizen sitting outside had no information about the whereabouts of the shakha members. Inside, there is a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and a photo of Sena leader Anand Dighe.

Shakha pramukh Sanjay Patil, however, said that the shakha continues to remain active. He said that he was born and brought up in Vashi and the shakha was built on land belonging to him. “It does not belong to any party. It would be my decision and that of the members here on the future of the shakha. We stand by Uddhavji. We are followers of Balasaheb Thackeray and he had said that after him, it will be Uddhavji who will lead us, so we continue to support him,” Patil said.

He added that the shakha is continuing with its activities. While many of those present in these shakhas expressed their solidarity with the Thackerays, the areas where Sainiks have shifted loyalties to the Shinde camp wear a more festive look.

At Shiv Sena shakha 7, in Dahisar, where corporator Sheetal Mhatre has joined the Shinde faction, the fairly new office has huge posters with the original Sena election symbol along with faces of Shinde, Balasaheb Thackeray and Anand Dighe with Hindutva written in bold font.

Neelam Parab, head of the women wing at this shakha, said, “There is a separate shakha by the other group in the same ward. But there is no animosity on the ground among party workers. The atmosphere is peaceful. There are multiple shakhas in the surrounding localities which have joined the Shinde faction.”

Girgaum’s Shiv Sena shakha number 18 located on the busy street in Thakurwadi takes pride in the ideology that the Thackeray family instilled in every Shiv Sainik. When asked what they feel about the recent political dispute within the Sena, those sitting inside the shakha replied that they feel cheated and not happy with what has happened with Uddhav, who is their only leader.
The Thakurwadi shakha, which was recently renovated, is one of the oldest which remain open throughout the day. People of different age groups, including retired government officials and young people, throng the shakha office, who usually come here in the evening to talk about their neighbourhood activities and of course the recent political tremors within the Sena.

The shakha people believe the decision of the EC to take away the Shiv Sena name and bow and arrow symbol from Uddhav has greatly disappointed the old-time party followers. However, they all are confident that the Uddhav-supported Sena will win the upcoming elections, including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, said Nilesh (Bala) Ahirekar, the shakha pramukh. He said, “For us Shiv Sena and the Thackerays cannot be separated, we are emotionally connected. Every Shiv Sainik works here for people without differentiating which community they belong to. In fact, many a time other political party leaders have also reached out to us for help. What has happened with Uddhavji is not acceptable at least to Shiv Sainiks like us who are on the ground, but in the upcoming local body elections befitting reply will given.”

Girgaum has always been close to the Thackeray family, where the ratio of Marathi-speaking people is more. In fact, the shakhas agreed that many got government jobs in BEST because of the Shiv Sena led by Balasaheb Thackeray. This place is still seeing three generation of families living in a small house in chawls, who have seen how the party has grown. However, with big towers replacing these rickety chawls and houses being priced over a crore, the Gujarati-speaking people are equal in numbers here.

Source : Indian Express