Mumbai: Until 2014, the Maharashtra unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was largely controlled by two factions — one led by former Union minister Gopinath Munde and the other by Nitin Gadkari. The two camps were often at odds, jostling for power.
Their significance, however, ebbed after 2014, the year Munde died and Gadkari shifted to the Centre as Union minister. It was also the year when former BJP state chief Devendra Fadnavis became chief minister, sowing the seeds of a new leadership within the party’s Maharashtra unit — the ‘Fadnavis camp’. It had the blessings of the BJP’s central ‘Modi-Shah’ leadership.
Six years later, both the Munde and Gadkari camps have faded and the party lines have been drawn loosely between two factions — those who are in the ‘Fadnavis camp’ and those who are not, with the latter comprising many of the party’s old guard.
Unlike the warring Munde and Gadkari camps, there’s been little sparring between the two new factions. But, off and on, there are incidents that spark murmurs of resentment — the recent resignation of senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse being one of them. Khadse, who had to resign as a powerful state minister following graft allegations in 2016, blamed Fadnavis, solely, for his quitting the BJP.
Resentment in the old guard
While there has been no open revolt against Fadnavis, rumblings surface within the party’s senior leaders whose ambitions were kept in check to allow Fadnavis to grow.
Political watchers say ever since Fadnavis took over as CM in 2014, he has systematically cut the wings of the party’s senior leaders with ambitions who were seen as a challenge to his authority. Khadse, with his chief ministerial ambitions, was one such example. The leader, who joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) last week, was made to resign over graft allegations.
“When he was CM, he (Fadnavis) took every major decision without giving either his or the Shiv Sena’s ministers any power,” political analyst Hemant Desai said. “It was the Modi model, right from the industrial policy to policies for agriculture and the loan waiver. Vinod Tawde’s wings were clipped when he started making statements such as he has been a prime leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and has the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Sudhir Mungantiwar too was kept on the sidelines.”
While the former CM asked Khadse to resign, he took some portfolios away from ministers such as Tawde and Pankaja Munde, Gopinath Munde’s daughter. Senior leaders such as Tawde and Chandrashekhar Bawankule were also slighted as they did not get tickets for the 2019 assembly elections.
At the same time, Fadnavis, who was the state party president before he took over as CM, built his own team of confidants such as Girish Mahajan, former NCP leader Prasad Lad and former Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leaders Pravin Darekar and Ram Kadam, among others.
Only state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, who became Fadnavis’s No. 2 in the former government’s cabinet after Khadse’s resignation, has been able to hold his ground. Patil is known to be close to Amit Shah.
When Khadse exited the BJP, Mungantiwar, who has been a Gadkari loyalist, told ThePrint, “He (Khadse) was a tall leader who had worked for the party for decades and had a lion’s share in the contributions towards the BJP’s growth in Maharashtra. If such a leader has issues with the party to the extent that he quits, it is something that the party definitely needs to think about.”
He also added that since 2014, the Maharashtra BJP’s chintan baithaks, or brainstorming sessions, for senior state leaders have completely stopped.
A BJP functionary close to Pankaja Munde said, “BJP workers and the district leadership in Beed were upset about Pankaja tai being sidelined. She was hoping to get accommodated in the state legislative council, but she didn’t and that angered her supporters within the party, but things have been fine ever since she was given a post in the central leadership team.”
The BJP in September appointed Tawde and Munde as national secretaries.
Nominations to the state legislative council in May this year turned controversial as they bore the stamp of Fadnavis and overlooked leaders such as Tawde, Munde and Khadse.
The BJP nominated loyalists of the former CM such as former Nagpur Mayor Pravin Datke, Dhangar leader Gopichand Padalkar and Lingayat community leader Ajit Gopchede. The party also nominated Ranjitsinh Mohite Patil, who Fadnavis had inducted into the BJP from the NCP last year. BJP’s leader of opposition in the state council, Darekar, is also said to be one from Fadnavis’ coterie.
Dareker denied suggestions that there was unhappiness in the state unit against Fadnavis.
“There is absolutely no truth in any talks about resentment within the party against Fadnavis saheb,” Darekar said.“He is taking the old and the new in the party together and leading the BJP in Maharashtra. With regards to Khadse, he has now gone into another party so he shouldn’t comment on the BJP. “
“About talks of silent resentment within the Pankaja Munde camp, a few months ago she was made part of the national executive, so there is no question about sidelining her. It’s not right to twist every comment that people make,” he added.
The Modi-Shah blessing
A senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, said the decision-making was “more democratic” in the previous regime with Munde, Mahajan (Pramod Mahajan) in the state and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani at the centre.
“If some seat had to be given to someone due to calculations of social engineering, and there was another strong loyal party leader there, that leader would be accommodated somewhere else. He would be given either a state legislative council candidature or a Rajya Sabha candidature. Now these decisions are also made based on who can best represent the prevailing ideology of the leadership.”
The leader, however, indicated that Fadnavis was just a “pawn” in the state, implementing decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“Earlier, the state’s share in decision making would be 70 per cent, and the centre’s 30 per cent. Now, the party’s central leadership already knows what’s going on in the party. It’s not about any particular camp in the state anymore.”
A Mumbai-based BJP functionary, who did not wish to be identified, said the central leadership has given an unwritten gag order on talking about any factionalism within the BJP with regards to former CM Fadnavis.
“The party doesn’t want to create any atmosphere of suspicion about whether all is well within the Maharashtra BJP. We have been told by the party leadership to not speak at all about any talks of resentment against Fadnavis.” he said.
The rise of Fadnavis
Fadnavis’ rise as the face of the BJP in Maharashtra was started with his elevation as state party president in 2013 when Munde and Gadkari were trying to push their own candidates and the central leadership picked Fadnavis as he visibly belonged to no camp and was polite and accommodating.
In 2014, when there was a clamour from the Gadkari camp for Union minister to be made the CM, the central leadership chose Fadnavis in a move that was seen as one to avoid creating a parallel power centre to Modi in Gadkari. Over the years, Gadkari has gradually withdrawn from active involvement in the party’s affairs in Maharashtra. The Nagpur MP even skipped the party’s state executive committee meeting in July.
Party sources said Fadnavis temporarily lost favour with Modi-Shah after the BJP could not form the government in Maharashtra. However, recent events such as legislative council nominations or giving the former CM the responsibility of winning this year’s Bihar elections show Fadnavis still enjoys the party leadership’s attention.
Meanwhile, following the recent controversy surrounding Khadse’s resignation from the BJP, Fadnavis tried to consolidate his strength within the party with soft politics. During his tour to flood-hit districts in Maharashtra last week, he had meetings, lunches and dinners with several who he had inducted into the party from rival parties before the Lok Sabha and assembly elections last year.
He met Harshvardhan Patil, Jaykumar Gore and Ranjitsinh Nimbalkar, among others, and visited villages in the Parbhani district with Pankaja Munde. At Parli, Beed, the opposition leader’s car also made an unscheduled turn towards Gopinath Gadh, a memorial to Gopinath Munde.