MUMBAI: Indicating differences in the BJP, Transport and Shipping Minister and senior leader Nitin Gadkari emerged as a front-runner for the post of Maharashtra chief minister here Tuesday.
In denial mode since the past two days, the leader from Vidarbha put up an apparent show of strength with at least 40 party legislators meeting him to seek "blessings and guidance" in Nagpur Tuesday.
Since the assembly election results were announced, Gadkari (58), had said that he was "not in the race" for the chief minister's post, but the mood seems to have changed following his meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah.
Interestingly, Gadkari's name was floated by former minister and state party chief Sudhir Mungantiwar, leaving a question mark on the fate of Nagpur legislator and another strong favourite Devendra Fadnavis, the current state party president.
Mungantiwar said: "Gadkari is a senior leader... There is a general feeling among legislators that he should become the next chief minister. He is a central minister now, but we would like him to lead the state... He has a lot of administrative experience behind him which can benefit Maharashtra."
This latest development in the party which emerged as the single largest entity with 122 legislators plus one from ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha in the 288-member assembly, may dampen the aspirations of others like former Leader of Opposition in the assembly Eknath Khadse, Leader of Opposition in the council Vinod Tawde and late Gopinath Munde's daughter Pankaja Munde-Palwe.
Mungantiwar has also called upon the Shiv Sena to extend unconditional support to the BJP and welcomed the "unconditional external support" by the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who along with newly appointed in-charge of Maharashtra J.P. Nadda, cancelled his visit to the state twice in the past couple of days, is now expected only after Diwali, leaving the field wide open for manipulations by various contenders.
One section of BJP leaders wants to project Pankaja Munde's name as the first woman and Other Backward Castes chief minister whose candidature may attract the reluctant Shiv Sena's support, but she later claimed to have backed out of the chief ministerial race.
In the meantime, the BJP is continuing efforts to lure seven independents and other smaller parties to prop up its government, besides weaning potential supporters from the other major parties.
The BJP's calculation is that with the support of independents and smaller parties, it will succeed in reaching the figure of around 135 -- still short of the magic figure of 145.
If invited to form the government as the single largest party, it could still sail through the first hurdle of vote of confidence with 135 and the "unconditional external support" of the NCP which has 41 legislators.