Even as Maharashtra appears to be headed for President’s rule with Shiv Sena refusing to give up its demand for chief ministership under a 50:50 formula, a not-so-unlikely name has cropped up as a possible troubleshooter for the BJP to break the fortnight-long logjam in the state: Nitin Gadkari.
Even though the BJP sought to mend fences with the Sena, its pre-poll ally, with back-channel talks in its last-ditch bid to instal Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister for his second consecutive term, the possibility of the return of Union Minister Gadkari to his native state to take the reins of the coalition government became a talking point in the corridors of power of both Mumbai and New Delhi on Thursday.
The reasons behind such a speculation are not far to seek, of course. First, Gadkari has always been considered to be a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) all through his political career; second, he is also known to have shared an excellent rapport with the Thackeray family over the years and third, his reputation as an administrator par excellence has been beyond reproach in the past five and a half years. But the million-dollar question remains: will the BJP stalwart from Nagpur volunteer to return to Maharashtra in order to bail out his party and defuse the deepening crisis arising out the rigid stand of the Sena?
Gadkari, for his part, has ruled out such as a possibility for now. Talking to news persons in Delhi, he said that the party had chosen Fadnavis to be the chief ministerial candidate and a coalition government of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance should be formed in keeping with the mandate given by the people of Maharashtra in the recent assembly elections.
According to him, since the BJP had the maximum 105 legislators, the chief minister should be from this party only.
But the problem is that the Sena still wants a written undertaking from the BJP that it will share the post of the Chief Minister on a 50:50 basis as per an understanding, it claims both the parties had mutually agreed upon before the Lok Sabha polls this year. However, Fadnavis had later denied that any such commitment had ever been made to the Sena, a remark which upset Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Sources say that the Sena had since chosen to take no initiative whatsoever to reopen the stalled dialogue with the BJP widening the chasm between the two allies more than ever before. Even though Fadnavis lived up to the expectations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in his five-year term as the chief minister, political observers believe that the BJP ought to engage a senior state leader such as Gadkari, a former state president of the party, to end the prolonged stalemate before imposition of the central rule becomes a reality.
Gadkari, however, may have his own political ambitions to not get tempted by the prospects of ruling the richest state from the commercial capital of the country. Since 2014, he has assiduously built his reputation as the ‘can-do’ minister, thanks to his performance in the surface transport ministry.
In fact, he could have become the Maharashtra chief minister in 2014 but he chose to remain in Delhi as part of the Modi ministry in its first term and let Fadnavis, his protégé from Nagpur, take over the Mantralaya in Mumbai at the age of 44. But then, as one of the best performing members of the Modi cabinet, he is a key to implementation of many ambitious infrastructural projects under his ministry. Even though the BJP needs a seasoned Maharashtra man like him at the moment to tackle a stubborn ally like Shiv Sena, he is unlikely to be relieved by Modi the way erstwhile Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was allowed to return to Goa.
All said and done, given the unpredictable stand of the Shiv Sena since the October 24 results of the latest state polls and the resultant fluid political situation, it will not be surprising if the party’s top brass contemplates sending back an astute troubleshooter like Gadkari, who knows Maharashtra like the back of his hand, to take command.