The Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra marked the rise of a new Other Backward Class (OBC) leader, with Girish Mahajan clearly replacing the dominance of the political heavyweight and old-timer Eknath Khadse in the BJP.
In spite of disputes within, coupled with challenges from established leaders in the Congress-NCP alliance, the party had a 100 per cent strike rate in north Maharashtra, also known as the Khandesh region. Of the total eight seats in the region, while BJP contested on six, its ally Shiv Sena on two. Mahajan, also the state water resources minister, was the party’s in charge for the region.
Khadse (67), who had held the reins of north Maharashtra for the last 40 years, was forced to take the backseat for the first time in these elections. Mahajan, a blue eyed boy of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, was in charge of the entire operation.
Majahan himself underplayed his role. “I attribute the success in entire Maharashtra, including north Maharashtra, to the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modiji and Chief Minister Devendraji Fadnavis.”
The BJP saw north Maharashtra as a difficult turf — the anti-incumbency against sitting MPs meant it had to bring in three new faces, which created much resentment within the party.
In Ahmednagar, party’s decision to field Sujay Vikhe-Patil by replacing sitting MP Dilip Gandhi had led to some protest and unrest among his loyalists. The other challenge was in Jalgaon constituency, where sitting MP A T Nana Patil was replaced with Smita Wagh. But finding her candidature was not appealing to the masses, Mahajan replaced her with young turk Unmesh Patil.
In Dindori, the decision to replace sitting MP Harishchandra Chavan with NCP’s Dr Bharati Pawar invited backlash to some degree within the organisation.
“Some unrest and anger was natural as individuals feel hurt when denied the ticket. But the organisation had to collectively take the decision to field suitable winnable candidates,” said Mahajan.
Many in the party said that the rise of Mahajan is the writing on the wall for Khadse, who represents the Muktainagar seat in the Assembly, and has been a critic of the Fadnavis government after he was forced to resign from the Cabinet over charges of corruption and misuse of office in a land deal.
A senior BJP leader said, “Khadse will continue in the core committee of the party. But there is no question of giving him any additional important role. The party has taken objection to his continued pin-pricks against the Fadnavis government in the Assembly and outside.”
Maintaining that Khadse’s resignation from the Cabinet was due to alleged corruption charges, a leader said: “No injustice was done to him. The party fielded his daughter-in-law Raksha Khadse from Raver based on merit and she won the seat.”
When contacted, Khadse described the results in north Maharashtra as impressive, “but not surprising as it has been a BJP bastion”.
“Jalgaon had been BJP’s best bet in eight consecutive elections. There was an exception only once… At a time when BJP was struggling to find its feet in other regions, north Maharashtra always favoured BJP. I led the party for four decades. Those were days of struggle and hardship with no resources and support base. I would campaign walking miles using a loudspeaker,” he told The Indian Express.
On Mahajan’s rise, Khadse said, “Since Mahajan has been entrusted the responsibility of the region, he is leading. But the organisation and the people will reckon our sacrifice and services in building the party. My only expectation is that the party organisation should reckon our services. I am not expecting anything more.”