Mumbai: From a rickshaw driver to being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Eknath Sambhaji Shinde, a staunch Shiv Sainik, has come a long way. Shinde, who belongs to the politically influential Maratha community and hails from Satara district, is the fourth CM after YB Chavan, Babasaheb Bhosale and Prithviraj Chavan to assume the top post. Shinde accepted Uddhav Thackeray as the Chief Minister of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and was sulking since day one but maintained his calm.
The BJP, which was unable to digest the loss of power despite its emergence as a single largest party in the 2019 assembly election, had kept Shinde on its radar to exploit his sulk to topple the MVA government. Shinde, before staging the historical coup, established his leadership and provided a helping hand, especially financial aid, to party legislators and cadre who were not happy with Thackeray’s style of functioning as the CM and party president.
A four-term legislator from Kapri-Pachpakhadi assembly seat in Thane since 2004, Shinde made his mark as the minister in the Devendra Fadnavis-led government and later in Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government as project implementer. While Thackeray, due to the pandemic, operated mostly from his official residence or Matoshree, it was Shinde who stole the show by reaching out to people in need. Be it the pandemic, Nisarga or Tauktae cyclones, major accidents or building collapses, or even killings of citizens by Naxals, Shinde was visible at every site as the minister of urban development and public works.
Shinde, who had to leave education halfway due to financial constraints and family issues, shifted to Thane, a Shiv Sena stronghold, and joined a company engaged in the sale of fish. However, due to a measly salary, he left the job and became a rickshaw driver. During the 1970s, he was attracted to Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray’s appeal to Marathi Manoos and started working for the saffron party. He came into contact with Shiv Sena’s firebrand Thane district chief Anand Dighe and became his close confidant to work tirelessly for the Sena’s consolidation.
Shinde, under Dighe’s leadership, emerged a street smart leader and problem solver. He participated in various agitations, including the Maharashtra-Karnataka border agitation. His rise surprised many because of his enthusiasm, dedication and preparedness to convert a crisis into an opportunity.
Dighe was impressed by Shinde’s work and brought him into electoral politics by giving him party ticket in 1997.
Having gained skills of weathering odds, Shinde will now have to show his magic in taking Maharashtra to a new high by attracting more investments, adding more jobs and expediting the growth. Apart from championing the Hindutva cause, he, with his deputy Devendra Fadnavis, will have to satisfy the Marathas and the OBCs with the restoration of their quotas. Challenges are many, but Shinde, a fighter, has a potential to take them head on.