Veteran Maharashtra politician Eknath Khadse joined the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Friday (October 23). For the BJP, Khadse’s exit was expected, given his repeated outbursts against the party’s state leadership over the past several months. But what does the NCP gain by embracing a lifelong Jana Sangh-BJP man who has represented the BJP in the Assembly six times since 1989, and was one of the architects of the party’s rise to power in Maharashtra?
A path into North Maharashtra
North Maharashtra comprises the districts of Jalgaon, Dhule, and Nandurbar in Maharashtra’s northwestern corner, bordering Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Over the past four decades, the political career of Khadse has been centred primarily around the North Maharashtra region — even though his appeal travelled beyond it. He can potentially provide the NCP with an opportunity to expand its footprint in North Maharashtra.
The NCP has struggled to make an impact in this region so far. None of the NCP’s four MPs from Maharashtra (the party has one MP from Lakshadweep) is from this region. Khadse’s stronghold, Jalgaon district, has 11 Vidhan Sabha constituencies, but only one (Amalner) is with the NCP (which has a total 54 members in the Assembly). The NCP does not control civic bodies, Zilla Parishads, milk federations or market committees in these districts.
The BJP, Shiv Sena, and Congress have a good presence in these three districts. In fact, the BJP rules the municipal corporation in Jalgaon, from where Khadse hails.
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Grassroots connect in the region
Khadse did have the option of joining the Sena or Congress — and he had met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray as well. However, the Khadse family leaned towards the NCP because, as Khadse said, “the NCP has no strong leadership in North Maharashtra”.
The NCP’s presence outside Western Maharashtra is limited, and it relies heavily on the charisma of Sharad Pawar elsewhere in the state. Pawar has often lamented the failure of the party to grow in other parts of the state.
Khadse comes from the Leva Patil community which has a sizeable presence in these three districts. Over the decades, Khadse has built excellent grassroots connect in the region, from which the NCP could gain.
Senior NCP leader Ankush Kakade has said that not only several BJP workers, but even two top leaders of the BJP who are close to Khadse are in touch with the NCP. Khadse himself has said: “At least 14-15 former MLAs are in touch with me. And several current MLAs want to cross over but are being held back due to the anti-defection law.”
Political observers in Jalgaon believe that with Khadse joining the NCP, the three constituents of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi could become a formidable force in North Maharashtra, and put the BJP under pressure. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Ammunition against the BJP
Khadse is an excellent orator who can keep his audience engaged on almost any occasion. He minces no words, is known for his fiery speeches inside the Assembly and outside. He is expected to aggressively take on the likes of former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, whom he has accused of “destroying his life”, and blamed entirely for his leaving the BJP.
Khadse is also expected to be a foil to Narayan Rane, Rajya Sabha MP and another former Chief Minister, whom the BJP roped in from the Congress especially to take on the Shiv Sena. Unlike Rane, who was with the Shiv Sena until 2005 before switching to the Congress and is known for making erratic comments, Khadse is almost always taken seriously.
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A variety in NCP’s leadership
The NCP’s other problem is that it is a party dominated by Maratha leaders. It does not have a wide variety in leadership.
Khadse is a prominent OBC leader. While Marathas account for 32 per cent of the state’s population, OBCs are 19 per cent. With the party’s other OBC leader, Chhagan Bhujbal, facing corruption cases, Khadse is expected to be the NCP’s prominent OBC face.
The NCP has apparently promised a ministerial berth to Khadse. NCP state chief Jayant Patil has said that Khadse will get the position he deserves in the NCP. Khadse was Minister from 1995 to 1999 in the BJP-Shiv Sena government, and in 2015, he was given charge of 10 portfolios after the BJP’s central leadership picked Devendra Fadnavis over him to be Chief Minister.
Khadse’s daughter Rohini Khadse, who lost the 2019 Assembly election for her father’s Muktainagar seat in Jalgaon district, has joined the NCP as well. Rohini is the chairperson of Jalgaon District Central Cooperative Bank, and is likely to get an important position in the NCP.
Khadse’s wife, Mandakini, who is chairperson of the Mahananda milk cooperative, has also joined the NCP. His daughter-in-law Raksha Khadse, the BJP MP from Raver, is, however, unlikely to follow suit.
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