Eknath Khadse vs Devendra Fadnavis: Experience is bonus but youth may hold the aces in Maharashtra
Khadse's exit was a long time coming: From being pipped by Fadnavis in the race to chief minister's chair in 2014, to becoming number two in cabinet, Khadse finally hit his lowest when he even failed to secure a ticket for himself in the 2019 polls
Sulking since his unceremonious exit from the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra cabinet in 2016, senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse on Wednesday quit the party to join NCP, squarely blaming the former Maharashtra chief minister for his exit.
Khadse lashed out at Fadnavis after quitting the BJP and claimed that the former chief minister instructed the police to implicate him in a fake harassment case. Talking about how he "suffered" in the BJP, Khadse said, "The then CM (Fadnavis) instructed police to register FIR against me on false allegation of harassment by a woman. He said the case would be withdrawn later. Inquiries for corruption was initiated against me in which I came clean." Khadse said Fadnavis tried to destroy his (political) life.
Fadnavis, meanwhile, downplayed the allegations and said his former BJP colleague was speaking only the "half truth".
"If he had complaints about me, he would have told seniors of the party," Fadnavis said. Terming Khadse's resignation as unfortunate, Fadnavis said, "It would have been better had he not resigned."
"I will not speak about this today but will do so at a proper time," Fadnavis said, adding Khadse had painted him a villain while making the allegations against him.
However, notwithstanding Fadnavis' explanation, the decline of Khadse's fortunes can be mapped alongside the former's rise in the BJP.
Khadse's exit was a long time coming: From being pipped by Fadnavis in the race to chief minister's chair in 2014, to becoming number two in the cabinet, Khadse finally hit his lowest when he even failed to secure a ticket for himself in the 2019 polls. Besides, Khadse is neither the first, nor the only person to blame Fadnavis for his misfortunes.
Fadnavis vs Khadse
Fadnavis came to the forefront in 2013 as a result of a cold war between the BJP's two factions led by Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde. After the decisive win in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the senior leadership accommodated both the senior leaders in the Central Cabinet while the state BJP's command was handed over to Fadnavis.
After Munde — tipped to be the chief ministerial candidate — passed away in a car crash months before the Maharashtra election, many hoped that the role will be passed on to Khadse, another strong OBC face in the party and a long-time Munde loyalist.
However, the BJP top leadership surprised all by choosing relatively younger and inexperienced Fadnavis. The perceived reason was that in Munde's absence, the BJP did not want to side with either faction and propped up a neutral man to helm the state while Gadkari was asked to continue his responsibility as a Union minister.
The party, however, could not ignore a leader the size of Khadse. He was made the number two in Fadnavis cabinet and he held as many as nine plush portfolios at the time.
Within two years, Khadse was mired in controversies with a questionable land deal in Pune and an alleged demand for a bribe by his close aide Gajanan Patil for a land allotment case in Kalyan. Apart from these doubtful real estate transactions, his mobile phone number allegedly appeared in the call records of most wanted gangster Dawood Ibrahim, leading to opposition furore.
The Pune land grab case came to light when builder Hemant Gawande named Khadse and his family members, alleging that they bought a three-acre plot of MIDC land in Bhosari for a mere Rs 3.75 crore.
Khadse, on his part, dismissed all the allegations saying that the land at Bhosari MIDC belonged to a private owner and the transaction was completed by the books.
Then, there was also the matter of the multi-crore irrigation scam in which Khadse also finds himself embroiled. Social worker Anjali Damania alleged that Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation (TIDC) awarded projects that were unfeasible and not required to contractors that were patronised by Khadse.
Another controversy erupted after Manish Bhangale, an 'ethical hacker', claimed that seven calls were made from Khadse’s number between January and March last year to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, Hindustan Times reported.
Khadse denied all these allegations and asserted that he was ready to face any enquiry into the allegations against him.
The central BJP leadership maintained a neutral stance and left the ball in Fadnavis' court. The rest is history.
Once touted to be chief minister, and one of most powerful leaders in Maharashtra BJP, Khadse was forced to resign as minister and did not get a ticket from his seat that he has represented six times since the 1980s. The Fadnavis government also opened various investigations against Khadse.
Critics say Fadnavis killed competition within BJP
Reams of newspaper sheets were dedicated to profiling Fadnavis after the BJP's 2014 win and in the run-up to 2019 re-election. Journalists and political pundits all spoke about Fadnavis' calm, quiet, demeanour. However, opinions started to change within a couple of years as all those who were once considered contenders to the post of chief minister lost clout and were dogged with controversies.
Khadse was the strongest competition for Fadnavis. After Munde's death in 2014, Khadse emerged as the OBC face both in the BJP and the Maharashtra government. He belongs to the politically assertive Levedar Patil community which had once supported Congress but had rallied behind BJP since Khadse's rise. Fadnavis, meanwhile, is a Brahmin, a community which constitutes just 3 percent of Maharashtra's population. Khadse is a grassroots leader and considered a force to reckon with in North Maharashtra, where he worked hard to make BJP a household name. Fadnavis, came under the spotlight after being elected as the youngest Mayor of Nagpur, where his father was a prominent Jana Sangh leader and was close to the RSS.
But within two years of coming to power, Khadse lost favour with the central leadership amid allegations of corruptions.
Later on, the Maharashtra anti-corruption bureau gave a clean-chit to Khadse in the Pune land-grab case and the Maharashtra Lokayukta also closed the enquiry against him in the bribery case involving his "personal assistant" Gajanan Patil. The 'hacker' who had levelled allegations about the Dawood link was later booked by the Mumbai Police for forgery.
But Khadse was not reinstated in the cabinet, neither was he given any party posts.
Since then, he has made no secret of his dislike for Fadnavis.
Khadse believes that Fadnavis deliberately entangled him in these cases to keep him out of power. Khadse had also alleged that activist Anjali Damania had filed a molestation complaint against him over his speech and the police had registered a case in that connection on Fadnavis's instructions. The same view is shared by leaders in both Congress and Shiv Sena.
Former Maharashtra chief minister and Congress leader Narayan Rane also blamed Fadnavis for Khadse's public fall from grace.
"Fadnavis took Khadse's wicket," Rane said at the time of Khadse's exit from the cabinet.
"On one hand, you (Fadnavis) give him a clean chit and on the other, you go to Delhi and request the party to take Khadse's resignation and also announce that the (BJP) president will declare a decision in this regard," he added. "CM should have told him to resign and informed him that an inquiry will be conducted into the charges. But this public humiliation was unwarranted," Rane said.
Shiv Sena, then a BJP ally, also pointed fingers at Fadnavis in a scathing editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna at the time.
"Khadse might have thought that Devendra Fadnavis, a yesterday's lad, would not understand politics. He thought he was the government. But he failed to know that this yesterday's lad was packing the (fire)cracker with gunpowder," Sena said, adding that ACB was after Khadse's PA Gajanan Patil since a long time, but Khadse had no idea about that.
Other strong leaders like Munde's daughter Pankaja and senior leader Vinod Tawade also got embroiled in controversies. In 2019, Pankaja lost the home turf to her cousin Dhananjay while Tawde did not even get a ticket. Khadse too was denied a ticket but was pacified after his daughter was given a ticket from his Muktainagar seat. Khadse alleged that his daughter lost the seat because BJP cadre worked against her on Fadnavis' instructions. He had attributed Pankaja's loss also to Fadnavis camp during a previous event, stating that Munde's daughter didn’t lose from her home turf, she was defeated by her own people.
Senior BJP leaders such as Prakash Mehta and Chandrashekhar Bawankule were also sidelined during the tickets distribution in 2019 in constituencies they had held for multiple terms.
However, Fadnavis also had to pay the cost of burning bridges with the Maharashtra BJP old guard not long after cutting them to size.
In 2019, not only did the party perform worse than it had expected, Fadnavis also faced the humiliation of not being able to form a government despite emerging as the single largest party, and leading the winning pre-poll alliance. Leaders like Khadse and Mungatiwar who had cultivated life-long ties with Shiv Sena could have saved the alliance. Khadse himself pointed out that things were not beyond repair with Shiv Sena and BJP could have easily retained power.
"Had we taken a couple of steps back and held proper discussions with the Sena the saffron alliance would have retained the government because the mandate was for the BJP-Sena to rule," he had said in a veiled jibe at Fadnavis after Sena broke the decades-old alliance with NDA and joined hands with archenemies NCP and Congress.
But finally, when Fadnavis put all his might to secure a second term, he did not get help from party leaders who could have mediated with Sena, nor from party rebels who won elections as Independents. The central leadership, with which he enjoyed close relations, remained distant and did not try to broker a deal in Maharashtra like it did in Haryana.
With inputs from PTI
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