Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Eknath Khadse was inducted Friday into the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the presence of party chief Sharad Pawar, who immediately scotched speculation that he would be rewarded with a cabinet berth in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government.
The NCP leader was categorical that there was no plan of a cabinet reshuffle anytime soon.
Khadse, who resigned from the BJP on Wednesday blaming former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for his decision, continued with his tirade against the former chief minister as he joined the NCP.
“I was hounded and humiliated. In 40 years of my political life I have not backstabbed anyone. Never in my political life have I used women to attack my opponents. However in the last five years I have had to face all this including a false case of molestation by my opponent. Before quitting the party I was warned that the ED would be sent behind me. All that I have to say is if you have ED then I have a CD,” Khadse said while giving a cryptic warning during his speech post induction.
In a veiled threat to his former BJP associates Khadse said that in the coming few days he would also expose how much land was usurped by certain people. “I had to face land scam allegations but now I will expose how much land some people have usurped, wait for some time.”
Along with Khadse, his wife and daughter, and 70 of his supporters also joined the NCP.
Khadse’s NCP joining function was delayed by about 90 minutes. Sharad Pawar was huddled in a one on one meeting with Housing Minister and close confidante Jitendra Awhad at Y B Chavan Centre as senior NCP ministers and leaders waited at the party office for over an hour for Pawar to arrive for Khadse’s induction. The Pawar-Ahwad meeting triggered speculation about a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate Khadse. But giving him a berth would have meant dropping a minister.
Eventually, as he welcomed Khadse into the party, Pawar said the ex-BJP veteran had joined without any pre-conditions and there were no plans of a cabinet reshuffle anytime soon.
“There are talks that he demanded a place in the cabinet. I would like to clarify during our meeting he has not laid down any expectations from the party. He said that he had to take the unfortunate decision of quitting his party with which he was associated for 40 years. While joining us all that he said was that he was planning to serve the people of the state without any expectation in return,” Pawar said.
Pawar also denied any plans of a cabinet reshuffle. “There are some rumours of someone being made a minister or a minister being dropped. Nothing like this is going to happen. No changes are going to be made. No one is going to be moved from their position,” Pawar said.
Pawar also denied that Ajit Pawar was “unhappy” with Khadse’s induction. The younger Pawar had isolated himself on Thursday due to health reasons and was not present during Khadse’s induction. Sharad Pawar while explaining his nephew’s absence said he was unwell and had told all his associates to take necessary care during times of Covid.
Khadse’s induction into the NCP is seen as sweet revenge for Pawar. The BJP had engineered large scale defections from his party in the run up to the Assembly elections in 2019. By weaning away one of the founding members of the BJP in Maharashtra, the NCP has scored one over the BJP. It is however yet to be seen if Khadse carries the same political heft to help the NCP strengthen its base further in North Maharashtra from where Khadse hails.
Khadse belongs to an OBC community, and could help NCP, which has the image of a Maratha party, make a wider outreach. The NCP has made such efforts earlier, when Chhagan Bhujbal was being groomed as a national OBC leader by Pawar, and the party launched Samta Parishad. But at this point, Khadse importance for NCP is that he can be deployed to taken on Fadnavis.
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