Nitin Gadkari makes new moves to strengthen bid for CM chair

Race for CM hots up as senior BJP leaders pledge their support to the union transport minister; the Gadkari camp claims he also has the support of 43 of 44 MLAs from Vidarbha, with the notable exception of his rival for the chair, Devendra Fadnavis

Some nifty, well-planned moves by Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari helped him send out strong signals that senior leaders in the party were backing him to become the chief minister (CM) of the state, over state unit chief Devendra Fadnavis, who is being portrayed as the first choice.

Nitin Gadkari
Nitin Gadkari

Gadkari hosted a power-packed show of strength in Nagpur, where not only party MLAs, but also prominent people from the party cadre were present. The move comes close on the heels of reports that Fadnavis was to be appointed CM by the Centre. It was a well-planned move, say BJP leaders. Gadkari, who was in Mumbai, reached Nagpur on Tuesday before the newly elected MLAs from Vidarbha could reach the state’s winter capital.

There he waited till the plane arrived. Gadkari welcomed them before reaching his residence in Mahal area. “I wanted to welcome these MLAs as they have won with huge margin,” he is reported to have said. At the Gadkari residence, thousands were present at the heavy-duty meeting BJP sources claim there were 10,000. The crowd comprised people from local and civic bodies, and office bearers from the entire region.

After the Centre had reportedly finalised Devendra Fadnavis as CM, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari made a statement with his show of strength in a Nagpur meeting. File pic
After the Centre had reportedly finalised Devendra Fadnavis as CM, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari made a statement with his show of strength in a Nagpur meeting. File pic

Gadkari’s pitch for the CM’s post began with Sudhir Mungantiwar, ex-BJP state unit chief and Gadkari’s close aide. Mungantiwar claimed senior leaders want Gadkari as the CM of Maharashtra. The statement comes against the backdrop of the CM race where Devendra Fadnavis, senior leader Eknath Khadse, Mungantiwar himself, Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde are touted as potential candidates.

Borivli MLA Vinod Tawde Bandra West MLA Ashish Shelar
Borivli MLA Vinod Tawde (left) and city BJP chief now also Bandra West MLA Ashish Shelar are in support  of Gadkari’s candidature

Khadse is seeking the post on the basis of his seniority and experience as a former minister and Leader of Opposition in the current assembly. Party insiders say the Nagpur show was a calculated move, as Mungantiwar’s statement, believed to have been made at the behest of Gadkari, spurred a fresh debate when state unit chief Devendra Fadnavis’s name had been finalised by the central leadership for the post of CM.

It is a known fact that Fadnavis had replaced Mungantiwar as state BJP chief when Gadkari had backed his protégé for a repeat term. Then, Leader of Opposition in state council, Vinod Tawde, too, jumped the bandwagon saying that not just he, but senior leaders of the party also wished for Gadkari to sit on the top chair.

Along with him, Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar, too, has joined the chorus. From Vidarbha, prominent faces which are staunchly backing Gadkari include Sudhakar Deshmukh and Nana Shamkule, both MLAs from Nagpur and Chandrapur respectively. Slogans extolling Gadkari as CM were also shouted.

‘Un-BJP move’
A senior party leader eschewed the usage of such pressure tactics, saying the BJP is known to be a cadre-based party and never allowed such moves.

In fact, it is Gadkari himself who had promoted such policies when he pulled down a huge poster in the conference hall in the party’s state headquarters in Mumbai, which showed Pramod Mahajan addressing a huge rally. Gadkari replaced it with the party symbol depicting three sentences in a row that said: ‘Nation first, party second, me third.’

Another leader said the show of strength in Nagpur is surprising given that Gadkari maintains a good rapport with senior leaders of the party, as well as with the RSS leadership. If the Gadkari camp is to be believed, they have the support of all of Vidarbha’s 44 newly elected MLAs, but one Devendra Fadnavis himself.

39 MLAs were present at the Gadkari residence, the leader from the Gadkari camp said. Also, 10 to 15 MLAs from Mumbai, Pune and western Maharashtra are close to Gadkari. Besides this, the senior leader enjoys the backing of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who is said to be his mentor and had played a crucial role in installing him as the party’s chief.

Another issue that may make choosing a CM even more complex, is that Brahmins are getting the top cabinet berths and plum party posts. Besides Gadkari, I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar is another Brahmin face. In the party, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Vijaya Rahatkar, Poonam Mahajan are all Brahmins occupying top positions. There is a feeling that OBC and other communities are being ignored, has been the feeling.

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