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Home / Analysis / Analysis: As Maharashtra BJP gets ready to sit in Opposition, internal rumblings break out within the state unit

Analysis: As Maharashtra BJP gets ready to sit in Opposition, internal rumblings break out within the state unit

This churn is to be expected as there is disappointment within the party for losing out a state like Maharashtra, a BJP leader said.

analysis Updated: Dec 12, 2019 13:10 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
BJP leader Eknath Khadse leaves after meeting with party leader Pankaja Munde at her residence in Mumbai, on Tuesday.
BJP leader Eknath Khadse leaves after meeting with party leader Pankaja Munde at her residence in Mumbai, on Tuesday.(Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo)

There is little doubt that former minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Eknath Khadse from Maharashtra, sidelined for the last three years by his party leadership and frustrated with this treatment, is talking shop with both Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena. The former Leader of Opposition, considered to be from the Gopinath Munde camp is likely to quit his parent party of 40 years, if he gets a cabinet ministerial portfolio from either NCP or Sena, admit BJP insiders.

That’s big if given that both the parties have more than enough ministerial claimants on their own.

But, it’s clear that as the BJP readies itself to sit in the Opposition benches in Maharashtra next week in Nagpur during the winter session of the state legislature, it’s not in a position to put its best foot forward.

The party faces an open revolt from old guard like Khadse even as younger leaders like former minister and party’s Other Backward Class (OBC) face Pankaja Munde have made her unhappiness with her electoral defeat in state assembly poll clear. Munde, the daughter of senior BJP leader, late Gopinath Munde, has inherited his political constituency - a large following of the Vanjari community besides other OBCs. While she has accepted her electoral defeat at the hands of her rival and cousin Dhananjay Munde as her responsibility, those close to her have echoed that her fall was orchestrated by those within the party. The finger has been indirectly pointed at former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who shares a good rapport with Dhananjay.

With both Khadse and Munde and other sidelined senior BJP leader Chandrashekhar Bawankule hailing from the OBC community, the support base of the BJP, the party is now also having to defend itself over allegations of sidelining the leaders of the community.

The party withheld tickets to five senior leaders in the state assembly polls including Khadse, Bawankule, former ministers Vinod Tawde, Prakash Mehta and former Mumbai chief Raj Purohit. This had not gone down well within the party cadre especially in the light of tickets given to the Congress-NCP turncoats. No leader barring Khadse has so far made his discontent public but there is clear indication of an internal uneasiness within the state unit against the way the party is being run. Much of this internal ire is being vented at Fadnavis. Fadnavis, for his part, has made it amply clear that the decision to sideline these leaders was taken by his seniors in Delhi - the central parliamentary board.

“The decision to not give tickets to these leaders was not made by us. The Maharashtra unit recommended these names but the central parliamentary board did not give it to them for some reason. I cannot comment on that. I do admit that by not giving ticket to someone like Bawankule, the party’s performance was impacted in Vidarbha,” Fadnavis had told HT after the poll results.

In an interview to Loksatta digital on Monday, Fadnavis reiterated this even as he admitted that there was bound to be some introspection and discussion within the party post the results and their failure to form the government. “Khadse will talk to party seniors about his complaints. I spoke to Munde and she has clarified that speculation about her is not true. BJP is a party of OBCs, there is no question of sidelining the community. We have 37 elected OBC legislators, the most from any community. Our PM does not believe in caste but he represents the OBCs,” he added.

Despite Fadnavis’ clarifications, all is unlikely to get well so soon. As Munde holds a rally to celebrate her father’s birth anniversary on December 12 at her home turf Beed, this platform is being seen indirectly as those of dissenters within the party. It remains to be seen how she well she can send a signal to her supporters about her unhappiness and pressurise her party into giving her a role in the opposition.

“Khadse may leave the party as he has been humiliated and edged out. Munde will not take that call. On the whole, these are pressure tactics and so far the BJP top brass seems to be not responding to it. But, if the party has to sit in the opposition for some time - at least another 2 years - then the party leadership cannot afford to not listen to discontended leaders,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

As Jondhale says, it would be best for the party to keep its flock together and galvanised as it sits in the opposition.

Besides the unhappiness of party old timers, the BJP will also have to contend with keeping the turncoats happy within its fold. More than 16 MLAs elected on BJP tickets are turncoats, who joined the party in the hope of coming to power. With BJP out of power, some of them are already mulling of ‘ghar wapasi’. They are waiting to see how long this three-legged government can last.

‘This could be NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s last masterstroke’ is the buzz in the political circles of the state.

To combat this, the BJP should ideally project an OBC face to lead the Legislative Council. Munde will fit the job well as the party does not have a strong team in the Upper House. But, if not Munde then one of the dissenting or sidelined leaders like Bawankule, Khadse or Tawde could be given that opportunity.

Incumbent state chief Chandrakant Patil, a Maratha leader, considered to be close to party chief Amit Shah is likely to be continued post organisational rejig by the end of this month. Fadnavis could also use both his former cabinet colleagues Ashish Shelar and Sudhir Mungantiwar in the Legislative Assembly and outside it to defend the party position and attack the ruling government. If the party stands united, it will give less fodder to Sena-Congress-NCP alliance to divert issues and target the Opposition instead.

“This churn is to be expected as there is disappointment within the party for losing out a state like Maharashtra. With Gadkari sidelined, only Fadnavis is in charge and hence he is at the receiving end. Some of this resentment is acting out to get the Leader of Opposition post in the Legislative Council or even angling for the state party president’s post,” said a senior BJP state functionnary.