Senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari may emerge as an eleventh hour contender for the Maharashtra chief minister’s job if Devendra Fadnavis fails to make it as a consensus candidate as the Shiv Sena inches closer to the BJP to form a government in the politically powerful western state.
Speculation was rife after 40 party MLAs met the 58-year-old Union minister at his Nagpur residence on Tuesday, urging him to take charge of the state.
Gadkari ruled out returning to state politics, but added that the final decision on his new assignment would be taken by the party’s high command. He later indicated he would take up the chief minister’s job when he told media he would follow the decision of the party leadership.
Sources said Gadkari may take a definite stand after meeting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur on October 25.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh and BJP general secretary JP Nadda are expected to hold a meeting of party legislators in Mumbai on October 26 to decide on the chief ministerial candidate.
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So far, Fadnavis has been the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post in Maharashtra, where the BJP will form a government after emerging as the single largest party with 122 seats in the assembly elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while campaigning, praised Fadnavis as “Nagpur’s gift to the nation”, sparking rumours that he was the favoured candidate for the CM’s chair. But with the BJP falling short of a majority in the 288-member assembly, the party may need a chief minister with more experience.
Sources said the RSS may also want a more seasoned politician like Gadkari to hold the reins of the state instead of experimenting with Fadnavis, who has never worked in government in his 15-year-long political career.
Former Maharashtra BJP chief and Gadkari aide Sudhir Mungantiwar said Gadkari would be the better choice in these circumstances: “Every leader and worker of the BJP wants Gadkari to return to the state. He would make a perfect CM.”
In the absence of a clear BJP majority and uncertainty over the National Congress Party’s offer of unconditional support or a post-poll understanding with the Shiv Sena, the party needs a seasoned leader like Gadkari to head the new government, said a senior legislator from Nagpur.