After the BJP’s big win in Maharashtra, the divide in the state party unit came out in the open on Tuesday as 39 of its 44 Vidarbha MLAs took a flight from Mumbai to Nagpur and asked Union Minister and former party president Nitin Gadkari to take over as the Chief Minister. Interestingly, all the 44 MLAs had earlier supported state party president Devendra Fadnavis, who is seen as the frontrunner for the top post.
Even as the MLAs shouted slogans like, “Maharashtra ka mukhya mantri kaisa ho, Nitin Gadkari jaisa ho”, Gadkari sought to play down the development. “It is their love for me that has prompted them to urge me to become CM. But I have repeatedly said that I am not interested in returning to the state… The CM will be chosen by the parliamentary party,” he said.
The move, however, seemed to have been planned strategically. First, Gadkari landed at Nagpur on Tuesday. Then, the MLAs rushed to Nagpur and gathered at his residence. Gadkari also fielded his close aide, Sudhir Mungantiwar, to hold discussions with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Capital.
In Nagpur, one of the MLAs said they wanted Gadkari to take over “since Maharashtra needs able leadership” and he “is experienced and more able.”
Describing it as a show of strength — and a message to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, BJP sources said, “Gadkari has sensed that the central leadership is keen on picking Fadvavis as the CM. So he is trying to reassert his political might in the state.”
A close aide of Gadkari said, “At a rally in Nagpur, Modi declared that Fadnavis was Nagpur’s gift to Maharashtra. Gadkari reckons that even if Fadnavis becomes the CM, the central leadership should realise that he (Gadkari) has the support of most of the MLAs from Vidarbha.”
With both Gadkari and Fadnavis hailing from Vidarbha, there has been speculation about a turf war between the two leaders. The rift surfaced during last year’s elections for the state BJP president. While Gadkari supported Mungantiwar, the late Gopinath Munde backed Fadnavis.
A senior BJP leader said the choice of ally could also play a role in deciding the CM. “The Shiv Sena is our natural alliance partner. If there is a Sena-BJP coalition, Fadnavis will lead the government,” he said. “If the BJP has to seek the NCP’s support, Gadkari will step in. During the campaign, the state leaders, especially Fadnavis, targeted NCP leaders aggressively,” he explained. Moreover, Gadkari is known to have a cordial relationship with NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
Meanwhile, the BJP made it clear that it is keeping all options open. “The process of formation of government will now take place after the Diwali celebrations,” said BJP general secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who left for Delhi in the evening. At the BJP headquarters in Mumbai, the party put up a notice declaring a holiday for the next four days. The newly-elected BJP MLAs are yet to elect their legislature party leader.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray deputed two senior party leaders — Anil Desai and Subhash Desai — to hold discussions with Rajnath Singh and other central BJP leaders. BJP sources said a meeting between Modi and Thackeray “to resolve the deadlock cannot be ruled out.”
“We have two proposals on hand. Sena has been a natural ally, NCP has announced unconditional support,” said Jaitley in Delhi.
— With inputs from \Pradeep Kaushal in Delhi