Eknath Khadse and power play in the BJP

Print edition : July 08, 2016

Eknath Khadse greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seen along with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in Mumbai on October 31, 2014. Photo: PAUL NORONHA

IT took longer than expected, but finally Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse was forced to step down from his post over his alleged links with underworld fugitive Dawood Ibrahim.

The furore started when an ethical hacker, Manish Bhangale, made public details of what he claimed were call logs of communication between Dawood Ibrahim and Khadse. This was followed by exposes of land deals involving the Minister, in which there was conflict of interest as well as accusations of undervaluing. Yet more dirt was dug up on how Khadse promoted his family members—his wife is a director of the State milk federation and his daughter is a director of the district cooperative bank. His daughter-in-law is a Member of Parliament.

The immediate reaction of Khadse and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was to deny the accusations. But soon after, the BJP started saying it believed in a clean image and was intolerant of such wrongdoings, and the hints rapidly turned into a directive to Khadse: resign or be kicked out. Khadse stepped down but insisted that he was not guilty. The Khadse camp believes that their leader has been treated unfairly. And though murmurs like “all people in power do land deals… it is a small thing” are typical of camp followers, there is no denying that Khadse has been targeted by his own party. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi made Devendra Fadnavis Chief Minister in 2014, it was Khadse who lost out. Fadnavis did not have the same profile or political following and clout as Khadse, but for New Delhi to keep a grip on Maharashtra, Fadnavis, essentially a local-level politician, seemed the wise choice.

Khadse, 63, had been Finance Minister and later Minister for Irrigation when the Shiv Sena-BJP combine ruled Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999, and it was commonly accepted that he was instrumental in guiding the BJP to power in the State in 2014. That was reason enough for him to feel slighted at not being made the Chief Minister, and perhaps for the BJP high command to be wary of giving him more powers. The party said he was not in the running because of his recent kidney transplant and his advanced age.

Khadse’s power base in northern Maharashtra is undeniable. About three decades ago, the young Khadse took to village and gram panchayat politics like the proverbial fish to water and soon his political acumen was noticed by RSS “talent spotters”. Clearly, Khadse was not averse to this brand of politics because he gradually increased his work with the RSS and is credited with helping the BJP establish a solid footing in northern Maharashtra.

As a part of the opposition in 1999, he worked hard to strengthen the BJP’s hold over northern Maharashtra and to cement his own position in Jalgaon district. With his deep understanding of power structures, he ensured that the BJP took control of the zilla parishad offices, the district cooperative bank and the Jalgaon Municipal Corporation.

Determined to reassert himself politically, Khadse went to Delhi on June 10 to try to meet Modi, senior BJP leaders and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, but was rebuffed. He only managed to meet Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, but, given the old rivalry between Gadkari and Munde and the fact that Khadse was identified as a “Munde man”, the meeting did not amount to much. The State unit of the BJP is readying his rival, Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, to take over as the Jalgaon district head of the party. Given Khadse’s strengths in the district, Mahajan will have to marshal all his resources to ensure that the BJP wins the coming elections to the zilla parishad and municipal councils in Jalgaon district.

Lyla Bavadam