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To Take That Call Or Not?

Khadse the Leva Patil strongman has put the BJP in a fix. Even his exit, after all, was made ceremonious.

To Take That Call Or Not?
Strong Act
Khadse has a huge support base in the northern districts
To Take That Call Or Not?
outlookindia.com
2016-06-10T23:07:18+0530

Controversies And Khadse

From Dawood ‘calls’ to land deals—the whole gamut

In November 2014, within days of the BJP winning in Maharashtra, Khadse, who has never hid his displeasure working under a junior Fadnavis, took a dig at the CM saying people wanted a non-Brahmin to become CM

  • Khadse’s statement on farmers’ electricity arrears landed him in trouble with the Opposition. Khadse had said that if farmers can pay mobile bills, why can’t they pay electricity bills. It didn’t go down too well with drought-stricken farmers either.
  • Khadse faced allegations of overriding the CM’s powers while sanctioning Transferable Development Rights (TDR) for land owned by the revenue department.
  • The Maharashtra government came under fire for allotting land in Versova at a concessional rate to BJP MP Hema Malini. Khadse had defended a policy for allotment of government lands on lease at nominal rates to charitable institutions. The CM ordered an overhauling of the policy.
  • In May 2016, Khadse’s close aide Gajanan Patil was arrested for allegedly demanding Rs 30 crore in bribe for land allotment.
  • Right after, Manish Bhangale, an “ethical hacker” from Gujarat, claimed a number underworld don Dawood Ibrahim had called from his Karachi residence was Khadse’s
  • Khadse’s wife and son-in-law were found to have bought a three-acre MIDC plot in Bhosari in Pune. Investigations revealed Khadse had used his ministerial power to discuss compensation for the land before purchase and had directed officers to provide compensation at enhanced rates right after the first payment for the land had been made.
  • Khadse’s son-in-law Manish Khevalkar had even earlier landed him in trouble when in March 2016 he was arrested by the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) for possessing a modified limousine. According to the Maharashtra Motor Vehicles Act section 52, modification of a Hyundai Sonata to a limousine is not permitted and no permission from the RTO was sought for the same.

***

Nation first, party second, self last. For now, Eknath Khadse, who had to res­ign from his post of revenue minister over alleged Dawood calls and a controversial land deal, may have had to follow that mantra. But the OBC strongman, who has considerable clout in state politics, isn’t someone likely to put ‘self’ last in the long run. After all, he’s been in politics for nearly 40 years and is considered the BJP’s most important mass leader after Gopinath Munde, who died in an accident in 2014.

Besides his unique survival probabilities, it’s the massive sway Khadse holds that gives him a comeback chance. “If your are looking for indicators of Khadse’s clout, just see the footage of the press conference when he resigned,” says a senior BJP leader of Maharashtra. “He was accompanied by senior ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar and Vinod Tawde. The party was pushed to give him an honourable exit.” In fact, state BJP chief Raosaheb Danve went to the extent of saying that Khadse’s contribution to the BJP could not be “undermined” and that the party would “continue to support him”.

Danve’s belief that Khadse has “done no wrong” stems from the simple fact that a sullen Khadse is no good news for the BJP. After all, three hours after his resignation, Khadse himself announced that his supporters were upset and ready to take to the streets and resort to arson. Of course, the magnanimous Khadse had stopped them in time. What Khadse did not stop, however, was the resignation of 14 municipal corporators from Jalgaon city on June 5, a day after his own exit. They were resigning to show solidarity with their leader. Khadse, who hails from Jalgaon, had won the Muktainagar constituency in the 2014 ass­embly elections. BJP MLA Suresh Bhole, also the party unit in-charge in Jalgaon, had confirmed the corporators’ resignations as an expression of displeasure against the party and its leadership, which had pushed Khadse to resign. Khadse still enjoys the support of some 12 MLAs in the state and as many as four MPs, among them Raksha Khadse and A.T. Patil.

A Maharashtra in-charge from Delhi says, “Khadse is the kind of leader who has grown from the ground. These days, we call them organic leaders. He not just has the power to influence people within his constituency but can impact voters and leaders in other constituencies.” Why? Because Khadse is a Leva Patil, an OBC community which has a powerful presence in the Dhule, Jalgaon, Nasik and Buldhana districts. So far, Khadse has ensured that this community supports the BJP.

Of course, BJP functionaries in Delhi and Maharashtra were aware of Khadse’s influence and anticipated the reactions to his exit—the reason why they had planned a noble exit for its most senior minister in Maharashtra. Not only was Khadse allowed to announce his own resignation, he was even allowed to def­end himself, presenting a victimhood he had never had the chance to claim in the four decades of his political career.

Khadse certainly has the capacity to use his OBC card to perturb the organisation he believes has denied him his due. A senior functionary of the BJP in Delhi says, “Khadse saab has never hidden his displeasure at working under a much junior Fadnavis. In fact, when Khadse was leading from the front, Fadnavis was occupying the back benches. In 2014, he was the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post, but it went to Devendra.”

Two years since, Khadse would do no wrong if he chooses to underline the fact that the BJP is an anti-OBC and a pro-Brahmin party. After all, he had said as much right after the BJP came to power in Maharashtra in 2014 and the dominant Brahmin lobby in the state unit of the BJP and the RSS chose Fadanavis over Khadse. Khadse had reasons to feel shortchanged. After all, it was his aggressive politics against the Congress and the NCP combine that had kept the BJP in the game in its opposition years.

A weak BJP in Maharashtra then is not favourable for either the party at the centre or Fadnavis, considering that the party does not have a majority in the state. Moreover, Khadse’s case will be highlighted by the Shiv Sena in the 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, which is the political mainstay of the Shiv Sena, with which there had been some tension in 2014. For its own part, the Shiv Sena played an active role in Khadse’s ouster, openly suggesting that the three-acre deal in Bhosari in Pune that was turned over in the name of Khadse’s wife and son-in-law was actually government land. Khadse’s animosity with the Sena goes back to his native Jalgaon, where the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena is in a direct flight with the OBC leader.  

For Fadnavis, meanwhile, Khadse’s resignation is a chance to underline his own position within the party. Younger than Khadse, the chief minister has made visible his discomfort with Khadse for long. With Khadse’s resignation, Fadnavis gets to send across a clear message to BJP leaders and cadre that he is in sync with the central leadership and that Delhi backs him unc­onditionally. Fadnavis also gets to establish that corruption will not be tolerated, in line with the PM’s much-advertised personal “zero tolerance” for corruption.  

All of that is well, considering the calculation in the Delhi BJP is that Khadse’s case will only have a limited, localised effect and shall fail to affect other states vis-a-vis corruption and caste issues. In which case, axing Khadse only enhances the PM’s image of a taint-free leader.

What the central leadership, however, needs to be ready for is that Khadse’s resignation could well open the proverbial Pandora’s box for the BJP. With ministers like Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde facing corruption charges in Maharashtra, Khadse’s resignation will be used by the opposition to push the BJP to take similar action against other tainted ministers. Add to the Maharashtra list the names of other BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhararaje (allegedly involved in the Lalit Modi case), Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan (allegedly involved in the Vyapam scam) and Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh (alleged to be linked to the Augusta scam).

Finally, where the BJP chooses to steer its anti-corruption plank can be left to a future date. For now, what is etched for good is that in two years of  Modi sarkar, the BJP has some homegrown scams of its own. The debate on corruption now does not have to be leaning heavily against the Congress, the BJP is contributing enough and fast enough to provide a balancing act.

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