Thackeray loyalist Rajan Vichare to fight in rebel Shinde’s home turf

March 28,2024

When Eknath Shinde rebelled and split the Shiv Sena in June 2022 it was assumed that member of Parliament Rajan Vichare, an old friend of Shinde’s, would join him. But Vichare was the only MP of the party from Thane district (his wife is a corporator in Thane Municipal Corporation) who did not join Shinde. Instead, he and his wife, Nandini, went to the Thackerays’ residence, Matoshri, to express their loyalty to the Shiv Sena and founder, Bal Thackeray.

Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday declared the first list of 17 candidates for the Lok Sabha election. Thackeray gave tickets to all five MPs who stayed with him after the party split. In 2019, 18 Sena leaders won the Lok Sabha elections as part of an undivided Shiv Sena. Vichare will contest from Thane, famously chief minister Ekanth Shinde’s home turf. Vichare has won Thane for undivided Shiv Sena twice in 2014 and 2019 — the constituency’s party workers are witness to Shinde-Vichare’s friendship that spans four decades.

In one such display of loyalty and camaraderie, in 2001, Vichare resigned from the post of group leader of TMC after his mentor, Anand Dighe asked him to. Dighe, the Sena’s tallest leader in Thane, wanted to give the responsibility to Shinde, who was deeply traumatised by his children's death in an accident, in the hope that holding a party position would help divert him towards work and away from his pain. Vichare reportedly told Dighe that he would give up the post instantly — and proceeded to do so as well. The incident was later included in the film Dharmveer, based on the life of Dighe released in 2022, before the split in Shiv Sena. But long before that too, it was repeated often enough among party workers as a sign of the loyalty Dighe engendered in his proteges.

Unlike Shinde, known for his aggressive politics, Vichare has kept a low profile as a politician. He began his political career as Shiv Sainik influenced by Dighe, the Thane Sena chief, in the 1980s and eventually went on to become a shakha pramukh. His hard work won him a seat in the TMC in 1992, and he remained part of the municipal corporation till 2012 winning the elections of 1997, 2002 and 2007. During his 20-year tenure as a corporator, Vichare was selected by Dighe to be the chairman of a standing committee in 1995, as well as the leader of the house in 1999. However, after Dighe’s death in 2001, Shinde became the undisputed leader of the party in Thane.

Vichare turned to developing his influence through socio-religious-cultural events like Navratri and Diwali Pahat that were held at Jambhali Naka.

By this time, Uddhav Thackeray, who took over as working president of the party, was looking into Thane Sena’s affairs. Vichare, a senior local leader, established a good relationship with Thackeray. In 2005, Thackeray selected him as the mayor of Thane — a post that Vichare held for two years. In 2009, he was given an assembly ticket from Thane — a sign of belief in the man, as the party had been winning this assembly seat since 1990. Vichare won and later even became a member of Parliament from Thane in 2014 for the first time.

Meanwhile, Vichare, after becoming a legislator, ensured that his wife also received a ticket in 2012 for the Thane corporation elections. Nandini has remained a corporator till recently, and also had a good equation with Rashmi Thackeray, Uddhav’s wife. Thus after the 2022 split in the Sena, Vichare remained the face of a loyalist.

It remains to be seen who Shinde will select to contest the Thane seat.