BJP’s juggernaut has hit a major hurdle. The party, which came to power promising change in the name of transparent and non-corrupt governance, finds itself in a tight spot, not only at the Centre but also in Maharashtra, where it is in a post-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena. The party has been battling a series of allegations against prominent leaders and the firefighting taking place appears insufficient to satisfy those who voted for the party last year. The opposition, which was nearly inactive till some time ago, is euphoric.
Issues related to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s alleged dealings with Lalit Modi have dented the party’s image and controversies surrounding the educational qualifications of ministers in New Delhi and Maharashtra have compounded the crisis. But what has really damaged the party’s painstakingly cultivated image of taking a tough stand against corruption are the serious allegations of graft against Pankaja Munde, Maharashtra’s Women and Child Welfare minister. Her explanation, which she issued while vacationing abroad, did not find many takers. The row will continue to haunt her.
Devendra Fadnavis, who gave the ambitious Pankaja a free hand in running her department, has ended up providing ammunition to the opposition and his detractors in the BJP barely eight months since taking over as the chief minister. As the head of the government, he defended the minister and shifted the onus of proving Pankaja’s wrongdoing on the Congress and NCP. He said he would conduct a probe if the material procured by Pankaja’s department was of sub-standard quality, but the damage to the BJP has been done and it may require a lot of effort from Fadnavis to repair it. The only way to prevent such incidents is to have harsh rules, plug legal loopholes and monitor the system, which is full of contractor-driven elements. The task is onerous, but the CM will have to do it to restore his government’s credibility.
Fadnavis has one more important issue to tackle vis-à-vis the allegation against Pankaja. Ever since the alleged scam came into light, the CM has been accused of having a hand in the allegations. Messages to this effect have been doing rounds of social media websites and their authors allege that Fadnavis has been pushing all his rivals within the BJP to the wall to cement his place in the top office. The trust deficit among the contenders for the CM’s post has been there since the beginning, but it has now broken through the party’s walls and come into the limelight.
Pankaja said from London that the decision of clearing the purchases of R206 crore wasn’t approved by her alone. She did not, however, name who else was involved in taking the final decision.
Another recent development that points to an intense intra-BJP war is the emergence of a video which allegedly has the party’s Colaba MLA, Raj Purohit, tearing into several members of the BJP. If the video is to be believed (Purohit has asked for a forensic test) then one can infer that most of the elected members in the BJP, in the Centre and the State, are not happy.
It also highlights the money power being used by certain members of the party. Little wonder, then, that the BJP mandarins and the RSS have been mulling a strategy to negate the damage.
The RSS, we’re told, has taken the matter seriously. A conclave in Uttan’s Mhalagi Prabodhini discussed the state of affairs over the last weekend. Meanwhile, political observers have their sights set on a certain BJP leader harbouring a dream of assuming the top office of the Mantralaya. This low-profile leader shot into prominence all of a sudden during the making of the Fadnavis government.
Beyond BJP’s scattered camp, the Shiv Sena is happier than ever at finding its ally in a mess. The opposition, with anti-BJP issues being handed to them on a platter, is going in for the kill.
So far, the Congress and NCP have made the right noises and it would be interesting to see how effectively and forcefully they raise a storm in the forthcoming Monsoon session of the state legislature.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day