Mumbai: Caught in a quandary following a rebellion within the party, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has intensified its attack on Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his group of dissident MLAs with an apparent narrative that they have surrendered before the "rulers" in Delhi.
Experts said that as the Bal Thackeray-founded Sena is being cornered, the party is going back to its roots and taking up the issue of Marathi pride.
Shinde, who became the chief minister on June 30 with the support of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has paid several visits to Delhi - either with deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis or without him - ever since he took oath of the top post.
On August 8, the lead story of 'Saamana', the mouthpiece of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, accused "Delhi" of insulting Maharashtra after CM Shinde stood in the back row during a group photograph after the Niti Aayog's governing council meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
".Dillishwar (the word that Sena often uses to refer to the BJP-led central government and its leaders) insulted Maharashtra because in the melee of the prime minister, other chief ministers and Union ministers, chief minister Shinde was made to stand in the last row," it said.
After the much-awaited expansion of the state cabinet on August 9, the party in its editorial in 'Saamana' next day slammed Shinde for "bowing" before Delhi seven times by going to the national capital.
It said that when Mughal emperor Aurangzeb made Maratha kingdom founder Chhatrapati Shivaji to stand in the line of military commanders bestowed with the honour of 5,000 horses, he left the durbar for the sake of his self-respect.
"This (story) was passed on to us from generation to generation. But the chief minister sullied this history," the editorial said.
On August 11, in yet another swipe at Shinde, an editorial in 'Saamana' said that Shinde who "bent the knee" before Delhi should understand that his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar showed that he can survive without it.
The party has also slammed the rebels for succumbing to the pressure from Delhi and the central agencies.
But this criticism is not restricted to 'Saamana' editorials alone as the rebels are being targeted in the speeches made by the Sena leaders.
Attacking the rebel Sena MLAs, Aaditya Thackeray, the chief of Yuva Sena, Shiv Sena's youth wing, in a rally at Sindhudurg earlier this month said there is a "conspiracy against Maharashtra".
"From our Governor to such people (a reference to BJP leaders), they want to break Maharashtra and divide it in five parts," he had said.
Sanjay Kumar from the Centre for Study of Developing Societies said the claim that Shinde and the rebels have surrendered before Delhi does not hold water.
"Despite having fewer seats than the BJP, it gave the chief minister's post to a Sena man. In the cabinet expansion, of the 18, half the ministerial berths have gone to the rebel Sena faction. So how is this surrendering before Delhi?" Kumar asked.
Shiv Sena leader and former Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar asked how much the chief minister is going to "prostate" before Delhi, referring to his trips to the national capital ahead of the cabinet expansion.
A Shiv Sena legislator who swears allegiance to Uddhav Thackeray, said there was no plan to build up any such narrative.
"It (the building of narrative) was impromptu. How many times has he (Shinde) been to Delhi? This never happened in the past. A Shiv Sainik only prostrates before 'Matoshree' (the residence of the Thackerays) and not before anyone including (the rulers in) Delhi," the legislator said requesting anonymity.
Prakash Akolkar, senior journalist and author of 'Jai Maharashtra: Ha Shiv Sena Navacha Itihas Aahe' (the history of the Shiv Sena), said one of the reasons behind the formation of the Shiv Sena was the discord in the Centre-state relationship and the injustice being done on Maharashtra and the 'Marathi manoos' in the 1960s.
"So it is no surprise that they have gone back to their roots," Akolkar said.
Historically, the Thackerays never went to Delhi, but senior BJP leaders like former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and party veteran Lal Krishna Advani always visited 'Matoshree'.
Even Uddhav Thackeray seldom made trips to Delhi. During his tenure as chief minister, he went to Delhi only twice. However, Shinde, in a short span of 40 days visited the national capital seven times.
During his tenure as the chief minister, Uddhav had constant run-ins with the Centre over GST compensation to the state and COVID-19 management and how "injustice" was being met to the state.
In 2019, Union home minister Amit Shah visited 'Matoshree' and convinced an upset Uddhav Thackeray that the Shiv Sena and the BJP should contest the Lok Sabha and assembly polls together.
"Now that the Eknath-Shinde led camp ditched the Thackerays over the Hindutva issue, the Marathi manoos and Marathi pride is the only option the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena has," Akolkar said.
Pune-based senior journalist Anant Bagaitkar said that after Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, several projects, government offices have been moved out of Maharashtra due to various reasons.
"This fits into the Shiv Sena narrative - be it partly true or partly false - that injustice is being done to Maharashtra at a time Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are at the helm. This has also prompted the Shiv Sena to again latch on the issue of Marathi pride," Bagaitkar said.
Bagaitkar said the Shiv Sena has moved back from Hindutva to the issue of Marathi pride.
"Over a period of time, Shiv Sena moved to the issue of Hindutva that helped it establish in other parts of Maharashtra other than Mumbai and Thane," he said.