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OBC face as Maharashtra chief, Sena challenger in Mumbai — behind BJP state leadership reshuffle

BJP Friday appointed Chandrashekhar Bawankule as Maharashtra unit president, while former Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar returned to his role ahead of BMC polls.

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Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday appointed Chandrashekhar Bawankule as the Maharashtra unit president with the twin purpose of rebuilding the party organisation in its stronghold Vidarbha and to repair its ties with the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Similarly, former Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar returned to his role as Mumbai unit president, mainly to lead the party into the high-stakes Mumbai civic polls expected
to be held later this year.

As the Mumbai BJP president in 2017, MLA Shelar had expanded the BJP’s strength in the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to almost match the Shiv Sena’s.

While Bawankule replaces Kothrud MLA Chandrakant Patil, Shelar succeeds Malabar Hill MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha. Patil and Lodha were earlier this week inducted as ministers in the Eknath Shinde-led Maharashtra cabinet.

“Chandrashekhar Bawankule is a senior OBC leader. He has been a former minister in the state and a mahamantri (general secretary in the state),” BJP national general secretary Vinod Tawde told reporters.

Regarding Shelar’s appointment as Mumbai BJP president, Tawde said: “The upcoming BMC elections are especially important for the BJP considering the changing political situations. And, at such a time, the appointment of an experienced leader such as Ashish Shelar who increased the BJP’s strength to 82 seats from 31 in the BMC has a different meaning.”

Also Read: Why Uddhav ally Congress is backing Shinde on cancelling MVA govt’s BMC delimitation

‘Bawankule’s appointment to rebuild base in Vidarbha’

With Bawankule’s appointment, political analyst Abhay Deshpande told ThePrint, the BJP wants to rebuild its base in Vidarbha and also reach out to the OBCs.

In Maharashtra, the OBC community has been important to the BJP since the 1980s, when the party actively started trying to promote leaders such as Gopinath Munde and capitalise on the political disillusionment that OBCs felt with the Maratha-centric Congress party.

However, as former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, tightened his hold over the BJP, some resentment started to build up among the old guard, some of whom were prominent OBC leaders such as Pankaja Munde and Eknath Khadse.

Khadse eventually quit the party and joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 2020.

Having an OBC leader as the state party president, BJP sources said, will help correct the party’s perception among the OBC community, especially as Bawankule was said to have been sidelined in 2019.

Bawankule, a Teli, was denied a ticket to contest the assembly elections — a move that surprised many as he neither had any apparent tiff with Fadnavis, who has become the BJP’s face in Maharashtra, nor any majorly sticky controversies while handling his portfolio as energy minister.

Subsequently, there was a dip in the BJP’s performance in Nagpur, the main political centre of the Vidarbha division.

In 2020, the BJP lost the MLC election to the Nagpur graduates constituency, which was once held by Union minister Nitin Gadkari. The next year, the BJP received a drubbing in the Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti election, with the Congress gaining ground in Vidarbha.

Tawde, however, denied any suggestion of Bawankule’s appointment being construed as a course correction. “There is no course correction in every move. I wasn’t given a ticket in 2019 (assembly election). Does that mean what happened to me (appointment as national general secretary) was a course correction?”

“The party always has some scheme in mind, and acts accordingly. The leadership uses the capabilities of all karyakartas and makes decisions,” he added.

Also Read: Shiv Sena implosion shows things go easy when you drum up hate. Moderation is a nowhere road

Shelar’s appointment to tackle Sena

As Tawde said, Shelar’s appointment as Mumbai BJP president was crucial at the moment due to his record in leading the party’s fight against the Shiv Sena.

An advocate by profession, Shelar is more articulate and upfront in his criticism of political rivals than his predecessor Lodha, party insiders said. BJP leaders also said a Marathi face to take on the Shiv Sena will be an added incentive in a high-decibel election.

The Shiv Sena has led the BMC for 25 years, the majority of which was in an alliance with the BJP. The two parties, however, contested solo in 2017, leading to an acrimonious campaign against each other. Shelar had strongly targeted the Shiv Sena, as he blamed it for alleged corruption and lack of transparency in the BMC.

Under Shelar, the BJP came close to wresting the Mumbai civic body from the Shiv Sena, finishing with just two seats short of the latter’s tally of 84.

“Shelar’s name was also being discussed for the state president’s post, but state leaders convinced the central leadership that he is needed more as the Mumbai BJP chief at the moment,” said political analyst Deshpande.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: BJP drove Sanjay Rathod out of MVA govt. Now, controversial MLA back in Shinde-Fadnavis cabinet


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