‘Disciplined’ BJP plagued by infighting at local level

Nov 20, 2023 06:44 AM IST

Eyebrows were raised in political circles, as the reason for Rane’s pique was his known differences with BJP leader Ravindra Chavan

MUMBAI: Even as it expands aggressively, the BJP, known for its internal discipline, is struggling to contain infighting within the party. In at least three districts, local leaders are publicly engaged in scuffles ahead of the Lok Sabha and assembly elections scheduled for next year.

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A public announcement by former MP Nilesh Rane that he was retiring from active politics brought the issue to the fore two weeks ago. Eyebrows were raised in political circles, as the reason for Rane’s pique was his known differences with Sindhudurg’s guardian minister and BJP leader Ravindra Chavan. Rane was upset with Chavan for sidelining his supporters in organisational settings at the district level; indeed Chavan had allegedly joined hands tacitly with Rane’s rivals to checkmate him in local politics.

After Rane’s announcement, the BJP leadership swung into action, and he and Chavan were made to bury their differences—at least in the public eye—by deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Speaking to the media after the meeting, Nilesh announced that he was withdrawing his decision, while Chavan said the party would see to it that all leaders and workers got their dues henceforth. “We will ensure that this does not happen again and will all face the Lok Sabha election as a collective unit,” he said.

Sindhudurg is not the only example. Revenue minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil has been facing sustained opposition in Ahmednagar district from other party leaders, including former state ministers Ram Shinde and Babanrao Pachpute. After a recent spat between Vikhe Patil and Shinde, the latter accused the minister of acting against the BJP’s interests.

Shinde’s statement came after the APMC elections held in May this year. Irked after his panel was defeated by the candidates fielded by Vikhe Patil and his MP son Sujay, Shinde said, “It was a known fact that Vikhe Patil worked against the party he joined. It has been reinforced now.” Sujay Vikhe had refuted the allegations.

More recently, Shinde, in an internal party meeting, said that their part of the district was being ignored, as the minister was only taking interest in his own constituency. The statement came during a meeting called by Vikhe Patil in the run-up to prime minister Narendra Modi’s Shirdi visit on October 26. Shinde is a loyal BJP leader while Vikhe, along with his MP son, joined the party before the 2019 general elections.

Similar infighting is at its peak in Amaravati between the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Anil Bonde and sitting independent MP Navneet Rana, who is expected to be the party’s candidate in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Bonde had openly opposed the candidature of Rana, saying that the party should field a ‘true’ BJP leader. He had also termed her Hanuman Chalisa plank a ‘nautanki’. State BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule had to intervene and announce Rana as the probable candidate of the party.

In Sangli too, infighting at the local level has been witnessed, with sitting MP Sanjay Patil upping the ante against party MLC Gopichand Padalkar. Padalkar, before joining the BJP before the 2019 assembly elections, had fought the election against Patil as a Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi candidate.

In Akola, party leader and former minister Ranjit Patil cannot see eye to eye with party MP Sanjay Dhotre. Patil lost the legislative council election early this year, and one of the reasons for his defeat is believed to be the infighting within the party unit in the district.

A common thread in the infighting, barring the examples of Akola and Sangli, is that it is between hardcore BJP loyalists and leaders who have joined the party more recently. In the Sangli case, however, both Sanjay Patil and Padalkar are ‘outsiders’ who joined the BJP from other parties in 2014 and 2019 respectively but are still fighting for power; ditto for Ranjit Patil and Sanjay Dhotre in Akola, who are both old-time party workers but are fighting over power-sharing in the district.

Effect on the forthcoming elections

The BJP’s top leadership has warned the squabbling leaders to bury the hatchet till the Lok Sabha elections. According to a top state leader, though some party leaders have been openly sparring for political one-upmanship, they will not be allowed to mar the party’s prospects in the election.

“The Lok Sabha elections are crucial for the party, and every seat counts,” said a senior leader. “A loud and clear message has been sent out that any losses in the election on account of infighting will not be tolerated. Even during the recent meeting between Fadnavis and the two warring leaders from Sindhudurg, this was clearly told to them. The central leadership takes such infighting very seriously and closely monitors it. Keeping the repercussions in mind, every leader is wary not to let the infighting affect the party’s electoral prospects.”

The leader said that the infighting at the local level was basically between loyalists and outsiders. “Loyal BJP workers have not been able to digest the importance given to leaders who joined recently,” he said. “This has led to infighting, as they have realised that the rise of their competitors comes at their cost. The fighting in Sindhudurg is a bit different, as it is the BJP’s struggle to make inroads into the district, and for this, the party has trusted its loyal leader Chavan rather than depending on Nilesh who joined just a few years ago.”

Maharashtra BJP vice-president Madhav Bhandari said that the infighting would not affect the party’s prospects in the elections. “As with all other parties, there are differences at the local level in some parts but there is nothing unnatural about it,” he said. “There are leaders who have come from other parties with their own style of working and culture, and they take some time to gel with our workers and leaders. There is a mechanism in the party to take care of such bickering, and we see to it that it does not affect the party’s prospects.”

Mumbai-based political analyst Prakash Akolkar reiterated Bhandari’s sentiments about the party’s electoral prospects. “There is a tussle between hardcore party workers and ‘outsiders’, which has started to come to the fore despite the BJP being a disciplined party,” he said. “There is unrest among loyalists as the ‘outsiders’ are being given undue importance. But ultimately the BJP’s DNA is such that their voters and workers vote and work for the party.”

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    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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