Eknath Khadse, senior BJP leader in Maharashtra, joins the NCP

Published : October 21, 2020 20:38 IST

Eknath Khadse addressing the media after resigning as Revenue Minister of Maharashtra followingr allegations of impropriety in a land deal, at the BJP office in Mumbai in April 2016. Photo: PTI

It has been a long time coming, but senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Eknath Khadse has finally taken the step of quitting his party and joining the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The first sign of this was when Khadse resigned from the few party posts he still held. The resignation was confirmed when NCP leader Jayant Patil announced that Khadse had joined the NCP. He submitted his resignation on October 21 and is expected to officially join the NCP on October 23.

Khadse has been out of favour for long within the BJP and has been passed over numerous times when it came to advancements and responsibilities within the party.

Oddly enough, the BJP valued Khadse but the way the party treated him seemed to indicate that his loyalties were taken for granted. So, while Khadse kept letting the BJP know he was unhappy, the party kept sidelining him. Waiting all the while in the wings was Sharad Pawar, who knew that luring Khadse to the NCP would be a double victory. It would send out the message that even a senior BJP loyalist was disgruntled with the party and it would transfer Khadse’s strengths in north Maharashtra to the ruling Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress Maha Vikas Aghadi government.

It was not as if Khadse has not tried to make peace with his party leadership. He has sulked, complained, threatened but the State and central leadership of the BJP persisted in turning a blind eye. In December 2019, he had issued his first public warning, telling his party that he would “look elsewhere” if they continued to “humiliate” him. At the time Khadse said something quite serious. It was after the October 21 elections and the neat plot of the Shiv Sena ditching the BJP and joining the Congress and NCP had been successfully carried out. Khadse’s daughter, Rohini Khadse, and other BJP candidates in the north Maharashtra Assembly constituencies had lost the election.. Eknath Khadse attributed the loss to anti-party activities by BJP functionaries who were more interested to diminish his powers rather than focus on the party winning.

He also alleged that the Bahujan samaj (non-Brahmin) communities were being subtly targeted as a means of bringing him down. At the time, he had told reporters that there were others in the party who felt similarly. “Bahujan samaj leaders have worked hard for the party’s growth. Is it not right that their sentiments should be considered?” he asked. The BJP had even denied him a ticket for the 2019 elections despite him having won the Muktainagar seat for six consecutive terms.

After the north Maharashtra defeat, Khadse had met Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrakant Patil and told him he expected some corrective action against the anti-party activities of some BJP members. He reminded Patil that he had been tolerant and silent over the years. Later he told reporters: “I am not God. I am a human being and I have emotions. I have worked for this party for more than 40 years and I have seen it grow. I want to continue doing this. I have no desire to leave but if this humiliation continues, I will have to think differently.” Such strong words from a hardcore BJP member should have rung alarm bells in the State and at the Centre, but both chose to ignore the statement.

Khadse’s downfall began in 2014 after Devendra Fadnavis was made the Chief Minister. Khadse was also in the running for the Chief Minister’s post and so was Pankaja Munde. Indeed, at a hastily called press conference at the Mumbai BJP headquarters, all bets were on Khadse as the next Chief Minister.It was soon clear that Narendra Modi wanted a yes-man to carry out his plans in Maharashtra and a greenhorn like Fadnavis fitted the bill rather than Khadse.

In 2016, Khadse, who had been given the revenue portfolio, had to resign over corruption allegations in a land deal. After that, he never managed to regain the power he once held. He now seems resigned to the fact the he will never regain the same position in the BJP and this could have been the catalyst for his finally shifting out. It is not known how Khadse will be accommodated in the Maha Vikas Aghadi, but given his political seniority, it will have to be a significant post. If it is a portfolio held by the Sena, then some more of Pawar’s political agility will be called on to smooth over yet another potentially rocky situation.

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