Differences in BJP? Nitin Gadkari also in Maharashtra CM's race

Group of newly-elected party MLAs from Vidarbha region pitch for Union Minister Nitin Gadkari as chief minister of Maharashtra

Nagpur: Even as senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar is pitching for Union Minister Nitin Gadkari as chief minister of Maharashtra, a group of newly-elected party MLAs from Vidarbha region today assembled outside the residence of Gadkari in Mahal area of the city and raised slogans hailing his leadership.

Gadkari, who arrived here from New Delhi today, was accorded a rousing reception by the party workers and leaders at Nagpur airport for the splendid victory of BJP in the just-concluded Assembly polls.

Nitin GadkariNitin Gadkari

Addressing party workers, Gadkari thanked people of Maharashtra for giving massive mandate to BJP. 

When reporters asked him about Mungantiwar demanding that he should become chief minister, Gadkari refused to comment, saying he had already clarified that he did not want to return to state politics.

A good number of MLAs who had flown to Mumbai yesterday for the crucial BJP Legislative Party meeting, which could not take place, returned to the city today and drove straight to Gadkari's residence in eastern Nagpur and raised slogans in his favour.

The development is being viewed as a show of strength to send signal to party leadership which is yet to name the chief minister.

Earlier in the day, Mungantiwar, former state unit BJP chief and a member of party core committee, told reporters in Mumbai that Gadkari should come to state politics. 

"State BJP leaders feel that Nitin Gadkariji should come back to the state politics and take up the position of the CM of Maharashtra. He has a lot of administrative experience behind him which makes him an ideal candidate," he has said. 

Among other names doing rounds, incumbent state unit BJP president Devendra Fadnavis, also from Nagpur, is considered as the strong contender for the post of chief minister.

BJP, which contested solo after severing its 25-year-old bond with Shiv Sena, pocketed 123 seats in an unprecedented
performance. The saffron party is facing the shortfall of 22 seats to reach the magic figure of 145 seats it needed in the 288-member House.

The Vidarbha region, where statehood is a contentious issue, has overwhelmingly come out in support of BJP which won 44 seats out of 62 seats in the region.

This latest development in the party which emerged as the single largest entity with 122 legislators plus one from ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha in the 288-member assembly, may dampen the aspirations of others like former Leader of Opposition in the assembly Eknath Khadse, Leader of Opposition in the council Vinod Tawde and late Gopinath Munde's daughter Pankaja Munde-Palwe.

Mungantiwar has also called upon the Shiv Sena to extend unconditional support to the BJP and welcomed the "unconditional external support" by the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who along with newly appointed in-charge of Maharashtra J.P. Nadda, cancelled his visit to the state twice in the past couple of days, is now expected only after Diwali, leaving the field wide open for manipulations by various contenders.

One section of BJP leaders wants to project Pankaja Munde's name as the first woman and Other Backward Castes chief minister whose candidature may attract the reluctant Shiv Sena's support, but she later claimed to have backed out of the chief ministerial race.

In the meantime, the BJP is continuing efforts to lure seven independents and other smaller parties to prop up its government, besides weaning potential supporters from the other major parties.

The BJP's calculation is that with the support of independents and smaller parties, it will succeed in reaching the figure of around 135 -- still short of the magic figure of 145.

If invited to form the government as the single largest party, it could still sail through the first hurdle of vote of confidence with 135 and the "unconditional external support" of the NCP which has 41 legislators.

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