The Maharashtra urban development and public works minister and senior Shiv Sena leader, Eknath Shindehas continued to be in the spotlight for raising a banner of revolt against the Chief Minister and Sena president, Uddhav Thackeray, and engineering a stunning split in the party by getting more than two-thirds of its total 55 MLAs to rally behind his leadership , which has pushed the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to the brink of collapse.
Having staked his claim to the post of the Sena Legislature Party leader from his luxury hotel in Guwahati In the BJP-ruled Assam, Shinde, 58, and his supporters may have incurred the wrath of another section of Sena leaders and workers affiliated to the Thackeray camp in their constituencies, but the rebel leader’s moves have got ringing support from the residents of his native village Dare in Satara district, who hope fervently that he is going to take over as the CM.
Dare, which has only about 30 houses, is situated on the banks of the Koyna river in a remote, backward belt, about 70 km from the hill town Mahableshwar, on the foothills of the Sahyadri hills. The village is skirted by the forest reserve on one side and Koyna on the other. Most of its houses are locked as their inhabitants are migrant laborers who have to work in Mumbai and Pune in the absence of any regular source of income in the village.
For the past few years Shinde has started paying attention to Dare, which his father had left to shift to Thane when he was a child. “He (Shinde) and his family never missed the annual religious fair of the village earlier, but it was only for the past few years that he really started taking interest in the village,” said Laxman Shinde, Dare sarpanch, as he along with other villagers, both men and women, cutting across all ages watch Shinde operating from the center-stage of Maharashtra politics on their television sets.
Dare falls in the Wai-Mahableshwar Assembly segment of the Satara Lok Sabha consituency, both of which are currently represented by the Shara Pawar-led NCP, an ally of the MVA coalition. “The area has been an NCP stronghold and Shinde has never tried to influence the village to follow his party. He has never engaged in any political activity locally, although he has initiated some development works in the village. We villagers stand by whatever decision he takes but we have been praying that he becomes the chief minister one day and make the village proud,” the sarpanch said, adding that when in village Shinde “urges the villagers to live together in peace without getting into any kind of disputes”.
Significantly, there is neither a school nor a hospital in Dare, with the nearest place for the villagers to access any educational or health facilities being Tapola at a distance of 50 kms by road or 10 kms by boat, which is situated on the other side of the Koyna river.
Dare has however seen the setting up of two helipads as Shinde always arrives in the village by a chopper. “There was one helipad developed by the minister in the village which is alongside Koyna river. However, the second helipad is also ready on a hill few meters away from his house in the village and would soon be in use,” said Ashok Shinde, Eknath Shinde’s cousin, who supervises the development work in the minister’s private property there.
According to his affidavit that Shinde, a four-time MLA from Thane’s Kopri-Pachpakhadi constituency, filed with the Election Commission (EC) for contesting the 2019 Assembly poll, he bought 12.45 acres of agricultural land in Dare in December 2018 at a cost of Rs 21.21 lakh while his son and Sena MP Shrikant Shinde bought 22.68 acre of land at Rs 26.51 lakh in November 2017 in the village.
The family is building a palatial farmhouse on their land that will see Dera’s first concrete road linking it to the village road. Dozens of laborers have been managing the farmhouse that has cattle and ducks. “We are here all the time, our sahib (Shinde) visits the farmhouse once in a month and stays here up to two days,” said a laborer. Shinde’s longest stay in his farmhouse was for eight days last year, when he had tested positive for Covid and had come to the village to recover.
A class eight student from the village, Sunny Shinde, who may not be much interested in politics but is excited to see his famous village resident being continuously in the limelight for days, said that everyone there was closely following the news as it might change their lives. “The schools have reopened but I am unable to attend it as the river is dry. It is too wide and cannot be crossed without a boat, so all children going from this part of river have been exempted, like always, from attending school (located in Tapola) as by road it is at a distance of 50 kms and the state public transport bus passes only once in a day,” he said, adding that only class ten students go to school by bus while remaining ones have been given homework and allowed absence till August 15.
An elderly villager Kisan Shinde, who is a distant relative of Eknath Shinde, points to a house to say that the latter was born there but shifted to Thane along with his father, where he studied and joined politics under the influence of late Sena leader Anand Digg. However, some of the villagers said that Shinde was born in Thane and not in the village.
Anand Nalwade of Walne village near Dare said Shinde was “the only hope for the 105 villages alongside the Koyna river” that have come under submergence since the construction of the Koyna dam. He said, “We have been suffering for long due to Koyna dam. There is no agriculture income nor any other source of income or facility in the area. Youths have left the villages for earning their living in cities and we manage to survive on their financial assistance. Our problems should be solved by Shinde by ensuring a decent living for us,” he said.