September 11, 2021 8:31:55 pm
Less than 24 hours after Bhujbal received the clean chit in the Maharashtra Sadan graft case, the NCP hailed his leadership. “Bhujbal is a fighter. Even during difficult times, he took his rivals head on,” state NCP president Jayant Patil said.
The Maratha-dominated party sees the senior NCP leader and Minister for Food and Civil Supplies as its best bet, considering long-term challenges including the Assembly polls.
A Mumbai sessions court had on Friday discharged Bhujbal, along with his son Pankaj and nephew Sameer, in the Maharashtra Sadan corruption case.
“OBCs constitute 52 per cent of the state’s population. At a time when the BJP has adopted an aggressive posture on OBC reservation, we have to project a strong leader who can connect with the community,” an NCP insider said.
With the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP in the ruling coalition, the BJP has been working meticulously to win over OBC constituents and upset the vote-bank of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA).
Meanwhile, the NCP has planned a state-wide OBC outreach tour under Bhujbal. His supporters have already put up posters referring to him as the NCP’s “strong arm”, a literal translation of his name.
Sensing the BJP’s strategy, Bhujbal has decided to put the ball in the Centre’s court. “The OBC reservation would have been safeguarded had the Centre furnished empirical data on OBCs to the state government,” he said. “Denying political reservation to OBCs in local bodies would not augur well for the community.”
The move to hold the Centre responsible suits alliance partners Congress and Shiv Sena, but both are equally wary of the NCP using Bhujbal to corner OBC vote share.
On its part, the BJP already has shortlisted half a dozen local leaders to raise the issue against the MVA government. “The BJP will fight tooth and nail if any local body poll takes place without OBC reservation. The MVA government’s lack of political will has resulted in the court striking down OBC reservation in local bodies. Yet, there is an opportunity to restore OBC quota in local bodies within three to four months by getting empirical data at the earliest,” Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis asserted.
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