The story behind this exclusive photo of the new Maharashtra CM

“We’ll need those photos when you take on the big responsibility,” I told photo-shy Eknath Shinde five years ago at his home in Thane. I had been there with our senior photojournalist Mandar Deodhar. We were working on a story about his infrastructure improvement projects in Maharashtra and wanted Shinde to pose for pictures at different locations in his sprawling bungalow. After a few photos, I realized that he didn’t like being photographed in different places. It was then that I told him that his ambient photos in his personal bedroom would be a treasure when he became Chief Minister. Shinde smiled. He didn’t react instantly but got ready for the photoshoot, which lasted about 20 minutes.

It was 2017, two years before the assembly election, and the reins of power were firmly in the hands of CM Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP. Shinde’s Shiv Sena was far from getting a majority, but this declaration had changed his mood. Later, we accompanied him on his tour of the Mumbai-Pune highway. First, he visited the house of a Shiv Sena worker in Vartak Nagar who had lost his father and offered his condolences. During the two-hour drive to the highway, he talked about his plans for Mumbai. Mandar clicked a photo of himself as he looked out the car window. A tight close-up showcasing his features and the signature black beard made Shinde smile again. “In this setting, you look like Anand Dighe (Shiv Sena veteran who mentored Shinde and died in 2001),” I remarked. Shinde kept mum. He looked at the picture again and said, “Opening another wing of the highway will cut travel time by 25 minutes. After returning from the tour, Shinde did not return home but went straight to his office in Mantralaya for another meeting.

Maharashtra’s new 58-year-old chief minister can be described in one word as “stubborn”. He had many ups and downs in his personal and political life, but whenever he faced a setback, he bounced back in no time. As a loyal Shiv Sainik, Shinde spared no effort to complete the task given to him. He is known to leave his house at 9 a.m. and not return until after midnight. Frugal with words, Shinde believes in letting his work do the talking.

Shinde went to school in Thane, but had to drop out after class 11 due to poverty. He however did not drop out of school and got his BA in 2020 through correspondence from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik. As a child he was attracted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Former RSS employees remember his participation in the shakha for children in Kisan Nagar. In his teens, he drifted towards the Shiv Sena, especially because of the charisma of the late Anand Dighe. He later became a supervisor in a chemical company and also drove a rickshaw to supplement his income. Dighe encouraged him to join politics and shaped his career, making him a shakha pramukh (head of unit) in 1984.

In 1997, Dighe selected him as the Shiv Sena candidate in the Thane Municipal Corporation elections. Two years later, two of Shinde’s three sons drowned in a river in his hometown of Satara district. He almost decided to quit politics and returned to farming. But Dighe again played a mentor and convinced him to pursue his political career. Shinde hasn’t looked back since then. He has won Assembly elections for the Kopri-Pachpakhadi constituency in Thane every time since 2004. Prior to becoming Chief Minister, he managed the Urban Development and Public Works portfolios as a Cabinet Minister.

Known to be a master of difficult tasks, Shinde never upset his bosses in the Shiv Sena. From managing crowds to initiating commotions, he has always taken a proactive role. He is also a good listener, who could listen to a visitor for hours without uttering a single word.

A man of simple tastes, Shinde is known to relish a good dish of Bhindi. Always dressed in white clothes, he wears a saint tilac on his forehead. His beard gives him an uncanny resemblance to Dighe, and he touches it whenever he’s in a good mood. And whenever someone asks him to pose for a picture with him, he only looks at the photographer if he really wants to be clicked with that person. Otherwise, he looks elsewhere.

Now that he has become Chief Minister as we predicted in 2017, we release his exclusive photo.

Subscribe to India Today Magazine

Jack C. Nugent