The resignation of revenue minister Eknath Khadse over corruption allegations on Saturday exposed the ruling BJP in Maharashtra to anti-OBC slur and internal rivalries.
The party’s senior-most leader and minister with nearly nine portfolios lost his job to a land scam that benefitted his family. Ironically, as the leader of the Opposition from 2009 to 2014, he exposed several land scams, particularly against the state’s NCP leaders. With the ouster of Khadse , an OBC leader mentored by the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, the BJP lost on one of its few mass-based leaders and backward-class face from northern Maharashtra.
The party stands open to accusation of being anti-backward class. This is one accusation the BJP could do without as the state is ruled by a Brahmin chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, and the RSS’s so-called upper-caste legacy often comes to notice.
“After the death of Munde, Khadse had indirectly inherited the mantle of the party’s OBC face even though Munde’s daughter, Pankaja, is in politics. The party will have to do damage control as his ouster will not go down well in his community and give the Opposition a stick to hit the party as being Brahmanical or anti-OBC,” a senior party leader said.
“We can tackle this but yes there are political implications even if one claims that caste doesn’t matter when it comes to corruption.” The Congress already seized the opportunity. Senior party leader Narayan Rane took the lead in alleging that Khadse’s dismissal was against the “bahujan samaj”.
The BJP’s state unit is battling a perception of anti-Dalit and with the ouster of Khadse, who has nearly 10 to 12 legislators in his camp, there are fears that resentment and intra-party rivalries are set to grow.
The biggest worry comes from “media trials”, which could increase as some senior ministers, including Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde, are facing allegations of impropriety and corruption. “Now, that media has tasted blood it is going to be difficult for us. With Khadse’s ouster, media trials will get stronger and we have seen what happened to the Congress during its tenure,” a party functionary said.
Senior ministers put up a brave face, though. Northern Maharashtra legislators were cautioned against public protests or anti-party displays.