Marginalised in Delhi and sidelined in his home state Maharashtra, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari has made sure his presence is felt in his party by meeting MNS chief Raj Thackeray, putting the limelight on both.
The meeting was to persuade Raj not to field MNS candidates in the Lok Sabha polls to brighten the BJP’s prospects. Gadkari has provided a face-saver for Raj, too, if MNS stays out of the Lok Sabha race, as seems likely, for want of suitable candidates and organisational strength.
The meeting has been noticed by long-time BJP ally Shiv Sena headed by Raj’s estranged cousin Uddhav Thackeray. Gadkari’s political fortunes had been hurtling downhill ever since he lost the BJP presidency to Rajnath Singh. The next blow was elevation of his rival in his native Nagpur district, Devendra Phadnavis, to BJP state unit president.
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Early this year, BJP general secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who is in charge of party affairs in Maharashtra, conveyed to Uddhav that issues could be sorted out by taking into confidence Gopinath Munde, Gadkari’s bete noire in the BJP in Maharashtra. This move left Gadkari with no pan-Maharashtra role.
Uddhav and Munde sorted out irritants between BJP and the Sena, including accommodation of RPI leader Ramdas Athawale and Raju Shetty in seat-sharing. The allies parted with one seat each for Shetty’s party, the BJP gave a Rajya Sabha berth to Athawale and the Shiv Sena the Satara Lok Sabha seat for RPI to contest. Uddhav either discussed matters with Munde, or with Narendra Modi or Rajnath Singh if needed.
Gadkari’s meeting with Raj has robbed Munde of solely claiming credit if BJP-Sena poll prospects get a boost. If MNS stays out of the Lok Sabha race, Gadkari could claim his due for having persuaded Raj to stay out to facilitate consolidation of anti-Congress votes. There is unease in the Shiv Sena camp. “It can affect our grand alliance if a senior BJP leader meets Raj Thackeray or NCP chief Sharad Pawar,” Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said.