The appointment of Chandrashekhar Krishnarao Bawankule, 53, as the president of the state BJP is a strategic decision to further consolidate the party’s base amongst OBCs in Maharashtra. Bawankule, a native of Vidarbha region, belongs to the Teli community.
Bawankule was the Energy Minister in the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government led by Devendra Fadnavis (2014-2019), but in the Assembly elections that followed, he had been denied a ticket to contest. The talk then was that the central leadership was uneasy over corruption issues during his tenure as minister, charges that were denied by Bawankule. Even a reported promise that his wife Jyoti would get a ticket in his place was not kept by the BJP.
Insiders say senior leaders, including a Union minister, had intervened on his behalf, to no avail.
Bawankule had kept a low profile after that. The change now seems to be prompted by the BJP’s realisation of the electoral arithmetic in Vidarbha cotton-growing region, where the party got 15 seats lesser in the 2019 Assembly polls compared to 2014 (a fall from 44 to 29 of the total 62 seats). The loss was partly blamed on the BJP’s “humiliation” of Bawankul.
The Telis form a substantial chunk of the Vidarbha population, apart from the Kunbis.
Soon after the polls, the BJP had rehabilitated Bawankule as general secretary. Then, in the December 2021 Legislative Council elections, Bawankule contested and won from Nagpur. After the Supreme Court stopped OBC quota in local body elections and the MVA government was put on the defensive, the BJP fielded Bawankule as its OBC face to raise the heat.
While he started out as a small-time contractor, Bawankule got into politics in the early 1990s, floating an outfit called the Chhatrapati Sena to “fight for the social rights of the common people”. By 1994-95, he had joined the BJP, and soon came to be known as close to Nitin Gadkari. Bawankule was later made the vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha.
The first major electoral break came his way in 2004, when he won the Assembly elections from Kamptee, and continued to win it in 2009 and 2014.
As minister, Bawankule was known for cordial relations across political parties, as well as for his knowledge of the intricacies of his Power portfolio. He didn’t hesitate to consult his NCP predecessor if need be.
On Friday, as news came of his appointment as Maharashtra BJP chief, a jubilant Bawankule said, “I am a committed karyakarta of the BJP. Whatever role is assigned to me, I will give my best. I am extremely happy that the BJP leadership considers me capable of shouldering such huge responsibilities.”
Bawankule replaces Chandrakant Patil, who has been inducted in the
newly constituted Cabinet.
With the state BJP chief term for three years, Bawankule is set to be at the head of the party during the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections – polls which will be crucial for the BJP to prove that the 2019 upset in the state was a fluke.