MUMBAI: Union Minister for Road Transport and Shipping Nitin Gadkari is taking centrestage on the shaky Maharashtra dais. Senior leader Gopinath Munde’s accidental death opened up a leadership crisis in the BJP state unit, where factionalism is rampant. Now, the former BJP president will be taking major decisions in the Maharashtra unit, but will not be involved in day-to-day affairs.
There is intense competition among the second rank state leaders to get fit into Munde’s shoes. In such a situation, Gadkari is the only leader whose orders will be followed without any opposition from the juniors. Gadkari indicated at a BJP conclave in Mumbai that he was ready to take a big responsibility. “Many politicians are meeting me in Delhi asking whether there is any space for them in BJP. I asked them to go to the state leaders. The state core committee should take a decision on their induction in consultation with district level leaders. If any conflict arises, I will take the decision,” Gadkari said. Gadkari may also plan the party’s strategy in the upcoming Legislative Assembly elections.
Some leaders believe that Gadkari will be too busy in Delhi. Hence, it will not be possible for him to look into the state BJP’s affairs. “He will guide us. We will consult him once in a fortnight,” a leader said. A couple of outsiders are queued up to join BJP in a fortnight. Gadkari will welcome only leaders those who are favourable to him. The party has floated a concept of collective leadership which empowers four leaders—Devendra Fadnavis, Vinod Tawde, Eknath Khadse and Sudhir Mungantiwar to plan its strategy. However, there is no unanimity on who will lead the government if the BJP comes to power. Gadkari’s opinion will be crucial at such a juncture. His affection for Tawde is no secret. Gadkari has apprehensions for fellow Nagpur resident Fadnavis and Mungantiwar who is from Vidharbha. Gadkari has openly slammed Fadnavis without taking his name for coining a slogan, “Narendra in Delhi, Devendra in Mumbai’. “You cannot become a leader by merely shouting slogans and publishing your photographs in newspapers. You will have to go to the people and work for their issues,” Gadkari had said.
Fadnavis, the state president, is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s blue eyed boy. The party is likely to face an embarrassing situation if Gadkari backs Tawde and Modi supports Fadnavis to lead the government in Maharashtra. According to a source, if BJP gets clear majority, Fadnavis, a Brahmin, will emerge as a strong contender for the Chief Minister’s post. But if BJP falls short of the majority, Tawde will get preference because he represents the politically dominant caste, Maratha. “In the state’s social cluster, a Maratha is widely accepted irrespective of his qualities,” the source said.
Gadkari will have the last laugh if his protégé assumes the top office and is likely to control the Maharashtra BJP's affairs.