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Booster shot in arm for Uddhav camp as former minister Sanjay Deshmukh returns to SSUBT fold

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Mumbai: Like a booster shot of sorts to the embattled Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction, ex-Maharashtra Minister Sanjay Deshmukh joined the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray – SSUBT) camp in Thackeray’s presence on Thursday.  

Deshmukh, a former Shiv Sainik is a former two-time MLA from the Digras Assembly constituency in Yavatmal district. He will now be pitted against his political rival Sanjay Rathod, the Minister of State for Revenue and an important leader of the rival Eknath Shinde-led Sena faction (Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena) from the Vidarbha region. 

Prior to the revolt within the Shiv Sena following Eknath Shinde’s revolt, Rathod had been the State Forest Minister in the ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ (MVA) led by Uddhav Thackeray. Rathod was compelled to resign from the Maharashtra cabinet in February last year for his alleged connection with the death of a 23-year-old woman from the nomadic Banjara community in Pune.    

Interestingly, at the time, the trigger for Rathod’s resignation had been the flak he had received from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, after Shinde’s revolt, Rathod promptly joined the latter’s faction which is now allied to the BJP. 

A former Shiv Sainik, Deshmukh had won the Digras seat twice – in the 1999 and 2004 Assembly polls while contesting as an Independent. In 2009, he was defeated by his namesake Sanjay Rathod who has since then managed to hold the Digras seat. 

With the Banjara community, which constitutes a sizable population segment in the district, holding the key to victory in local and Assembly polls, Deshmukh pointedly accused Rathod of not doing anything for the betterment of the community. 

Sanjay Deshmukh remarked, “There has been no upliftment of the Banjara community here (in Yavatmal) in all these years…Uddhav Thackerayji has promised to visit the Pohradevi shrine (in adjacent Washim district, revered by the Banjaras) soon after Diwali.”

Deshmukh’s induction forms part of a larger strategy being deployed by the Shiv Sena (SSUBT) to rope in former Shiv Sainiks in a bid to offset its losses following the intra-party split, particularly in the Vidarbha region where it has endured a massive blow after the exodus of leaders like Yavatmal-Washim MP Bhavana Gawli, Buldhana MP Prataprao Jadhav and Ramtek MP Krupal Tumane, all of whom along with Rathod moved over to the Shinde camp. 

Deshmukh’s induction was followed closely on the heels of that of another ex-Shiv Sainik – Balasaheb Dangat, a former MLA from Junnar in Pune district. Dangat’s entry into the Thackeray camp is an effort by the Shiv Sena (SSUBT) to rally its cadre in Pune after leaders like former MP Shivaji Adhalrao-Patil and ex-MLA Vijay Shivtare joined the Shinde camp. 

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