Eighteen months into power, the state Bharatiya Janata Party government on Saturday lost its senior-most leader and minister with nearly nine portfolios in the cabinet, Eknath Khadse, to corruption allegations.
Khadse, an Other Backward Class (OBC) leader, mentored by late BJP leader Gopinath Munde had led the saffron alliance in the state legislature as leader of Opposition from 2009 to 2014 and exposed several land scams especially against NCP leaders and targeted its chief Sharad Pawar. As he lost his job ironically to a land scam that benefitted his family, BJP has lost one of the few mass-based leaders as well as its OBC face from North Maharashtra.
The party now stands open to accusation of being against backward classes. With a Brahmin CM, Devendra Fadnavis, and RSS’s upper castes legacy, this is one accusation that the BJP could well do without.
“After Munde’s death, Khadse had indirectly inherited the mantle of party’s OBC face even though Munde’s daughter, Pankaja is in politics. The party will have do damage control as his ouster will not go well in his community and this will give Opposition a stick to hit the party with, as being Brahmanical or anti-OBC. We can tackle this but yes there are political implications even if one claims that caste doesn’t matter when it comes to corruption,’’ said a senior party leader.
While Congress as the Opposition was not united in its reaction to Khadse’s resignation on Saturday, one of its senior leaders Narayan Rane took the lead in claiming that the minister’s dismissal was against the ‘bahujan samaj’.
The party state unit already battling anti-Dalit allegations in the lieu of recent controversies is keen that it does not get painted as anti-OBC in the long run.
As the former leader of Opposition and given his clout in North Maharashtra, Khadse also has 10 to 12 legislators in his camp. His ouster is likely to fuel resentment within the state unit that is not new to intra-political rivalries.
The other big worry for the state unit is that Khadse’s dismissal opens the doors for further such ‘media trials’ and could mark the beginning of the end with ministers including Pankaja Munde, Vinod Tawde 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 only get stronger and we have seen what happened to Congress during their tenure,’’ said a party functionary.
However, a senior minister pointed out that the BJP had already taken North Maharashtra legislators into confidence cautioning them against any public protests or anti party displays.