They were leaders in their own right. They were powerful, groomed in the Shiv Sena, effective inside and outside the state legislature and played different roles at different times in the party. But became redundant politically when they dared Bal Thackeray or his legacy in the Shiv Sena.

They are : Chhagan Bhujbal ( NCP leader and Maharashtra minister), Narayan Rane ( Union Minister and currently in the BJP), Raj Thackeray( MNS chief and cousin of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray). And now Maharashtra Minister Eknath Shinde is daring the Thackeray legacy with his rebellion, claiming his faction to be the real Shiv Sena.

Will Shinde follow the path of his illustrious predecessors who did not survive the challenge? This is the question circulating in Mumbai, as Thackeray makes it clear the party is his, and Shiv Sainiks attack the homes of rebel legislators.

The Shiv Sena was founded in 1966. And its founder Bal Thackeray established a convention whereby tickets in elections are given on the sole criteria of loyalty to the Thackeray family, rather than caste considerations or money power. The Shiv Sena has seen many ups and downs but survived.

The BJP that is supporting Shinde currently, expanded in Maharashtra only after it allied with the Shiv Sena since 1989. Here the RSS is not as active as in states like UP and Gujarat.

Among the Shiv Sena leaders, Chhagan Bhujbal was seen as the most charismatic. He was a firebrand leader of the party considered to be the blue eyed boy of Bal Thackeray.He started his career as a Shakha Pramukh in central Mumbai (Mazgaon) in 1960, became a corporator in 1973 and Mayor of Mumbai in 1985 and later in 1991.

Bhujbal was elected to the Maharashtra legislative assembly in 1985 (from the Mazgaon seat) and was effective in the House despite the negligible presence of the Shiv Sena in the House. He was elected to the assembly from the same seat in 1990.

He was the star campaigner of the party after former Prime Minister VP Singh implemented the Mandal Commission report and was in much demand in the Lok Sabha and state assembly polls held in 1989,1990 and 1991. He had certainly contributed to the increase in numbers of the Shiv Sena both in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha.

He had thought he would be the natural choice of the party for the Leader of Opposition in the state assembly. Instead Bal Thackeray nominated Manohar Joshi. Bhujbal took this as an adverse message and quit the party to join the Congress with his supporters in the legislature in 1992.

He became minister in the Sudkarrao Naik and the Sharad Pawar governments. But in just three years, 1995, ,Bhujbal lost the assembly election and was defeated by Shiv Sena's Bala Nandgaonkar, a junior,lightweight, from the same Mazgaon seat. This compelled Bhujbal to shift to Nashik district.

Later, Bhujbal joined Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, became the deputy chief minister, emerged as a prominent OBC leader but lost his support base. His supporters too lost the elections.

Like Bhujbal,Narayan Rane too began his career as a Shakha Pramukh (local ward chief in Mumbai) in the Shiv Sena in the 1970s. Although, he was not known for his charm or oratory he was famous for his dynamism,organizing capacity, money,muscle power and administrative skills. He grew in the party after Bhujbal's rebellion.

Bal Thackeray made him the chief minister replacing Manohar Joshi in 1999. But the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance did not get a majority in the assembly elections despite a split in the Congress after Sharad Pawar formed the NCP and fought the state assembly and Lok Sabha polls separately. The ruling Shiv Sena-BJP alliance had advanced the polls with the calculation that it would ensure a second term in office.

Later, Rane became the Leader of Opposition. " I have a big role in the Shiv Sena's growth" he once told reporters during the interactions. He was elected to the assembly from Mavlan in 1990,1995 and 1999 and later from Kudal in 2004 in Konkan.

But the rise of Uddhav Thackeray in the organization and his emergence as the power Centre led to a clash in the party. Rane refused to accept Uddhav as his leader at a time when Bal Thackeray was grooming him as his political successor. Ultimately,he saw his future in the Congress and was expelled from the Shiv Sena. He never regained lost clout in Maharashtra.

In 2014 Shiv Sena's Vaibhav Naik defeated Rane in his stronghold.In 2015. He contested a bypoll from Bandra and was defeated by the Shiv Sena candidate.

After realising that he had no future in the Congress, he floated his Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksh but that experiment too failed. And,finally,he merged his party with the BJP in 2019. But here his presence is not felt, and the BJP uses him as and when it wants to, against the Shiv Sena.

The case of Raj Thackeray is completely different from Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane. He belongs to the Thackeray family, is a nephew of Bal Thackeray, draws cartoons like him, is a good orator, worked in the organisation.

But Bal Thackeray declared his son Uddhav as his political heir to head the Shiv Sena. And established the legacy. The BJP leaders used to praise Raj privately but did not want to rock the boat then by backing him openly. Narendra Modi had invited Raj as his guest when he was the Gujarat chief minister.

Raj Thackeray's access to Bal Thackeray was controlled. And he was compelled to leave the Shiv Sena in 2006. " My fight is not with the Shiv Sena but others surrounding the Leadership not letting others in" Raj Thackeray had said.

Bal Thackeray had publicly warned Raj not to use his photographs for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) he founded. The MNS had won 13 assembly seats in 2009 state assembly polls. But its decline began soon after, surely and steadily, and now with a negligible presence in elected office MNS is seen by many as the B team of the BJP.

Chhagan Bhujbal quit the Shiv Sena in 1992, expelled Narayan Rane joined the Congress in 2005 and RajThackeray floated his party in 2006 but none of them could damage the Shiv Sena.

Eknath Shinde is considered a lightweight leader as compared to these three. He is not staking his claim to the chief minister's post, and has created a perception within political circles that he is fighting for the BJP and backing Devendra Fadnavis as the next chief minister.

Insiders do not see him as a player and his future now depends on the BJP. Eknath will not inherit the Shiv Sena, and at best will have to form his own party if he gets the numbers to flout the anti-defection law. The Shiv Sena will stay with the Thackerays.