Senior leader Eknath Khadse’s concerted effort to prop up the Other Backward Caste (OBC) card to consolidate his political base and avoid political exile in the light of his sudden resignation is unlikely to work in the current scenario.
A senior central BJP functionary told The Indian Express, “We have already weighed in all pros and cons. We cannot buckle under the caste card and pay no heed to corruption charges.”
Khadse, who hails from the ‘Leva Patil’ community, classified under the OBC category, has his political base confined to the districts of Raver and Jalgaon in North Maharashtra. So, he cannot be equated to the stature enjoyed by leaders like late Gopinath Munde from Wanjari community, N S Farande from the Malli community or Annabhau Dange from the Dhangar community, the functionary added.
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Political managers within the BJP, meanwhile, said, “The party will support Khadse and wait for him to be absolved of all corruption charges. But any effort to hold the party hostage so that he can return to the government will not work. If he plans to get back to electoral politics just by playing the caste card, that would just prove futile.”
Nearly 24 hours after Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao accepted his resignation, Khadse garnered a lot of support from his home turf in North Maharashtra.
To mount pressure on the BJP, corporators from the Jalgaon City Municipal Corporation have even threatened to resign enmasse. Some others have indicated that they would avenge the developments if Khadse is not brought back to be part of the government.
A cabinet minister said, “When we talk about OBC as a group, it includes a conglomerate of several sub-castes. It includes the Malis, the Dhangars, the Banjaris, the Vanjaris, the Teli, the Komtis among other communities.” In that sense, the leva patil community, consolidated in some districts of North Maharashtra, comprise just a fragment.
In Maharashtra caste politics, the biggest vote share is that of the Maratha community at 33 per cent. Taken together all the sub-castes and communities, OBCs would work upto 35 per cent. But, successive elections have shown that OBCs don’t vote uniformly or decisively. The permutations and combination vary region-wise and party wise.
Apart from this, Dalits comprise 10.8 per cent, Scheduled Tribe 8 per cent and Muslims 12 per cent. The Brahmins, meanwhile, make up 3.5 per cent of the vote share.
While Khadse is a prominent face in Raver and Jalgaon districts of North Maharashtra, he does not much clout in Vidarbha, Marathwada or western Maharashtra.
Highly placed sources in the state BJP unit said, “The Lok Sabha election in 2014 and the Assembly elections thereafter have altered the politics of country and state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an OBC. In the Centre, there was a perception that a prime minister is usually from North India and that he generally should be upper caste. But people vote for who is good and not based on caste.”
In Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, was the chosen face because of his clean image and ability to connect to the masses across Maharashtra, he added.
The BJP at present has more than a dozen OBC leaders across North Maharashtra, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada. Known to be among second-rung leaders, these young OBC leaders, who are playing a proactive role in their respective constituencies, are likely to be promoted in the organisation.
Sources also indicated that party is mindful of the sentiments of the people and has always ensured perfect caste combination both in government and electoral politics.
Not surprisingly, of the 30 BJP ministers in the Fadnavis government, only two — Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Girish Bapat — are Brahmin. All the remaining 28 important portfolios are held by ministers belonging to Maratha, OBC, Dalit and other tribal communities.