Blaming Fadnavis, senior Maha BJP leader Khadse quits to join NCP (2nd Ld)

Mumbai, Oct 21 (IANS) In a big jolt ahead for the BJP ahead of the Bihar elections, its senior Maharashtra leader Eknath Khadse on Wednesday quit the party, holding former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis responsible for his decision.

Set to join the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi partner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Friday, Khadse said that he was repeatedly targeted by Fadnavis on trumped-up graft charges which have still not been proved.

This has come as a major embarrassment for the BJP as Fadnavis is the party’s in-charge for the upcoming Bihar polls, voting for which starts from October 28.

Making it clear that he nursed no grouse against the BJP’s Central leadership, Khadse said that “except state President Chandrakant Patil, no BJP leader has called me up so far”.

“My family and I have been humiliated for four years… I worked hard to build up the party in the state for 40 years and this is what I had to undergo.. I am going alone,” Khadse told media persons after resigning as a primary member of the BJP.

Ejected as a minister in June 2016 after graft charges surfaced against him, Khadse – the de facto No 2 in the cabinet headed by Fadnavis – faced further agony after BJP denied a ticket in the 2019 Assembly elections, and he remained a political pariah.

Khadse detailed how he was humiliated for over four years in the BJP even though “no party, including Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party or Congress, has ever demanded any investigations or my resignation” at that time.

“So many agencies probed me, but nothing emerged… Then, one lady levelled some molestation charges against me to which Fadnavis asked that a FIR should be lodged against me. This was the kind of low-level politics played against me,” an emotionally-charged Khadse said.

Among the tallest BJP leaders with huge grassroots support, Khadse, 68, hails from Muktainagar, Jalgaon, which he represented from 1989-2019, while his daughter-in-law Raksha Nikhil Khadse was elected twice (2014-2019) as BJP Lok Sabha MP from Raver.

Considered an efficient administrator and powerful orator, groomed by the late Pramod Mahajan and the late Gopinath Munde, Khadse is now expected to blunt the Opposition Fadnavis-led BJP’s tirade on the MVA and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Ironically, Khadse had once tutored Fadnavis in legislative politics, but was by-passed by the central leadership for the CM’s post when the party came to power in 2014, forcing him to play second fiddle to Fadnavis.

State NCP President and Minister Jayant Patil announced that NCP would lay the red carpet for Khadse – who is willing to work under Sharad Pawar’s leadership – on Friday afternoon, and claimed that many other BJP activists and legislators are likely to follow suit in the coming days.

In a guarded reaction amid speculation that the new entrant would join the state cabinet soon, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said: “We welcome Khadse to the MVA family.”

While Chandrakant Patil said the party had made efforts to hold back Khase, but was “pained” as it did not happen, Fadnavis promised to “speak in detail at the appropriate time”, and senior leader Sudhir Mungantiwar felt what has happened does not augur well for the BJP and called for “introspection”.

Lauding the development, Shiv Sena leader Kishore Tiwari said: “Khadse is a very popular mass-based OBC leader and his departure will prove costly for the BJP and Fadnavis.”

“He is among the few leaders who served as a minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government of 1995-1999, as BJP’s Leader of Opposition from 2009-2014, and again as minister when the BJP-SS regime took over in 2014, till his exit in mid-2016,” Tiwari said.

After cutting him off in 2019 assembly polls, the BJP tried to mollify him by fielding his daughter Rohini Khadse-Khevalkar, but she lost, after which (Khadse’s) supporters accused Fadnavis for engineering her debacle.

The defining moment for Khadse’s political comeback dawned a year after the 2019 state assembly elections and 11 months after the Sena-NCP-Congress united to form the MVA government (November 2019) by ensuring that the hastily cobbled 2-man government of Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar was ousted in just 80 hours.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

–IANS

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