The Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra could soon see an influx of top flight leaders from the opposition. Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party may be the most hit __ at least four of its key leaders from various parts of the state are reportedly in talks with the BJP. They are Ganesh Naik, the Navi Mumbai strongman, former ministers Jaydutt Kshirsagar and Suresh Dhas from Beed, and former state NCP president Bhaskar Jadhav from Ratnagiri. And there are the persistent rumours about the Congress strongman from Sindhudurg, Narayan Rane, too joining the BJP.
Winning over these leaders, who have a strong support base in their areas, could help the BJP win a few more assembly seats in 2019 when the party is likely to face a Congress-NCP alliance as well as the Shiv Sena as opponents.
Though all these leaders have been denying any such possibility, their differences with the state leadership of their parties and uncertain prospects in the 2019 Assembly elections seem to be reasons behind their plans to hop on to the BJP bandwagon.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik rubbished the reports, saying, The rumours about these leaders quitting the party have been there for quite some time, but there is no substance in them.”
However, it is no secret that Ganesh Naik has been restive, reportedly reaching out to both the Sena and the BJP in turn. Naik’s fortunes have been on the wane since his son, Sanjeev Naik’s defeat in the 2014-Lok Sabha election to the Shiv Sena’s Rajan Vichare in Thane, followed by his own unexpected loss in the assembly election later that year. Things came to a head after the recent civic polls in Thane when Pawar chose Jitendra Awhad loyalist Milind Patil as leader of the opposition, sidelining Naik’s relatives and three-time corporator Mukund Keni. So the Naiks are now eyeing the BJP since that party and the Sena are likely to contest the 2019 elections separately.
“It would be difficult for Sanjeev Naik again to get elected from Thane Lok Sabha seat and Ganesh Naik from Belapur assembly seat in the current circumstances. Similar is the case in Mira-Bhayander where the Naik family has had political clout for years. The NCP’s district chief Mohan Naik’s recent defection to the BJP is apparently a sign if things to come. Naik’s arch rival Manda Mhatre’s recent statement saying Naik was welcome in the BJP, strengthens the possibility of him switching sides,” said an NCP leader speaking on condition of anonymity. Mhatre, contesting on a BJP ticket, had defeated Naik in Belapur.
Another leader of the NCP in Thane, Vasant Davkhare, too, was not happy in the party and his supporters had crossed over to the BJP in the recent corporation elections.
Similarly, in Beed, two key NCP leaders, Kshirsagar and Dhas too, are apparently keen to join the BJP. Dhas had recently helped the BJP to install its president in the district council by making his supporters vote in favour of the saffron candidate. Kshirsagar, Beed MLA who belongs to the Teli community, has close ties with many BJP leaders including power minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule and the BJP’s Wardha MP Ramdas Tadas as they belong to the same community.
Party sources said that Bhaskar Jadhav, the NCP’s Guhagar MLA who shares a strained relations with the party’s state unit chief Sunil Tatkare, is also in talks with the BJP leadership.
Meanwhile, speculation that Congress leader Narayan Rane may join BJP surfaced again on Sunday after tourism minster Jaykumar Rawal met him in Sindhudurg. Party sources, however, claimed the meeting was related to a tourism project in Sindhudurg, which Rane has been strongly opposing, and that he was unlikely to cross over immediately.