Wednesday, 18 May, 2022
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Tawde promotion, Bawankule nomination is how BJP plans to keep Maharashtra old guard happy

Former Maharashtra ministers Vinod Tawde & Chandrashekhar Bawankule were denied tickets in 2019 assembly polls. Now Tawde is national gen secy, while Bawankule is set to be MLC.

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Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken two significant decisions in Maharashtra in the last three days, elevating Vinod Tawde to the post of national general secretary, and nominating Chandrashekhar Bawankule as its candidate for the legislative council poll from Nagpur. Bawankule filed his nomination Monday.

Political watchers see this as a course correction — especially since there is a strong perception that the party’s old guard is being sidelined as former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s influence increases. 

Tawde and Bawankule were not given tickets in the 2019 assembly polls, but their new appointments could help the BJP get caste equations right, with Tawde being from the Maratha community and Bawankule being from the Teli community among the Other Backward Classes (OBC).

Political commentator Hemant Desai told ThePrint, “It is a course correction, in a way. This is a signal to Fadnavis that the party wants to keep his influence in check. Moreover, it being unlikely that the Shiv Sena and BJP will ally again, it is clear that the party has to travel the distance from 105 to 145 MLAs on its own, and needs the organisational strength of old as well as new faces in the party. It cannot afford to ignore the old guard.”

Also read: BJP promotes Vinod Tawde as party’s general secretary, appoints 2 new spokespersons

Tawde’s ‘patience’ pays off

Born in Mumbai’s Marathi heartland of Girgaon, Tawde has been associated with the RSS-linked Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) since his college days.

Throughout his four-decade long political career, Tawde has worked in various positions for the ABVP and the BJP, making cadre-building and organisation his forte.

Within the ABVP, Tawde rose from karyakarta (worker) to the organising secretary of the Mumbai Central Zone, and eventually the All India General Secretary of the outfit. In 1995, Tawde took charge as general secretary of the Maharashtra BJP, and in 1999, became the president of the Mumbai BJP. He was leader of the opposition in Maharashtra’s Legislative Council from 2011 to 2014, and then became an MLA from Mumbai’s Borivali constituency. 

Tawde was a cabinet minister in the Fadnavis-led cabinet, in charge of school, higher and technical education and medical education, as well as cultural affairs. The leader had battled allegations of violating norms while awarding a Rs 191-crore contract for fire extinguishers in schools. In 2016, Tawde was also targeted by the Opposition for being allegedly associated with a for-profit company despite being minister.

While Fadnavis defended Tawde through the allegations, in 2016, he clipped Tawde’s influence by reallocating the medical education portfolio to Girish Mahajan, a leader said to be close to the former CM. From then on, Tawde gradually started fading into the background in the state’s political affairs, with the final nail being the party’s decision to drop him for the 2019 assembly polls.

The leader was, however, rehabilitated by being made the BJP’s national general secretary along with Pankaja Munde, known to be another BJP old-timer who has indirectly dissented against Fadnavis’s leadership on several occasions.

A Mumbai-based BJP leader told ThePrint, “Tawde was appropriately rehabilitated in the party after being denied candidature in the 2019 assembly election, so it is not right to say that he was disillusioned with any particular leader. Building organisational strength has been his forte, and his appointment as national general secretary only means that the party needs this in the national scheme of things ahead of elections in major states.”

Speaking to reporters in Nagpur Monday, Fadnavis said Tawde’s appointment is “a matter of pride for Maharashtra”.

“After Pramod ji (former Union minister Mahajan) and Gopinath ji (former Union minister Munde), this is the first time that Maharashtra has got the honour of the general secretary’s post. It is happy news,” Fadnavis said. Mahajan and Munde were appointed BJP national general secretary in 1993 and 1999 respectively.

Speaking to reporters Sunday after his appointment, Tawde chose to give a measured response, attributing his promotion to “patience”.

“It is not in the nature of a karyakarta like me to lose patience immediately after being denied a ticket and say ‘I am leaving the party’. Do the work that is given to you and if you do that work, then it will be noted. This has become even clearer to the karyakartas by this elevation of mine,” he said.

Also read: Why BJP is losing grip on Nagpur, Congress is clawing back lost ground in former stronghold

Bawankule may strengthen BJP in Nagpur

Bawankule is a three-term former MLA from Nagpur’s Kamptee assembly constituency, who joined the BJP in the 1990s and worked in various positions such as general secretary and president of the BJP’s Nagpur district unit, and secretary of the state unit.

Bawankule was also energy minister in the Fadnavis government, and is known to be close to Union minister Nitin Gadkari. The party, however, denied Bawankule a ticket in 2019, resulting in protests by his followers.

Party sources said the move surprised many in the party as, unlike Tawde, Bawankule was on good terms with Fadnavis and had no serious charges levelled against him during his tenure as minister. Allowing a perception of him being sidelined also risked hurting the OBC community in Nagpur, with Bawankule being a Teli community leader who started off as an auto-rickshaw driver.

Fadnavis had said that the decision to drop leaders such as Tawde and Bawankule was taken by the central parliamentary board and not the state leadership.

A BJP leader said Bawankule’s nomination to the legislative council may be to consolidate the BJP’s strength in Nagpur. “The party’s performance in the zilla parishad elections this year was poor. Bawankule was leading the BJP’s campaign and the opposition went on telling people how he doesn’t have any major post or pull to be able to help people,” the leader said. 

In the zilla parishad elections earlier this year, the BJP suffered a drubbing in Nagpur, winning just three of the 16 seats across 13 talukas, while the Congress won nine.

As Bawankule filed his nomination Monday, the BJP tried to portray that all was well in its state unit on his right stood Gadkari, and on his left, Fadnavis.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: ‘Fadnavis camp’ vs old guard — No open revolt but resentments in Maharashtra BJP can be heard


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