Bounty hunter in the north: All eyes on Eknath Khadse for grand promises he has made to NCP
Eknath Khadse, who shared opposition benches with Narayan Rane, was then in Sena's partner, BJP. Now Rane is in the BJP and Khadse chose the NCP to be his abode to have a last hurrah
Defection becomes a talking point when the leader involved is one of his/her kind. Some 15 years ago, then opposition leader in the Assembly, Narayan Rane, staged a coup against the Shiv Sena making the ruling Congress his new party. It was the biggest ever event of that year, followed next year by Raj Thackeray's break-up with the Sena. Eknath Khadse, who shared opposition benches with Rane, was then in Sena's partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now Rane is in the BJP and Khadse chose the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to be his abode to have a last hurrah.
Last year, another sitting opposition leader in the Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil stepped into Rane's shoes by defecting to the BJP. But unlike Rane, he waited for some time before the BJP got his son elected as an MP and inducted him as a minister a couple of months before the 2019 elections. A host of power-hungry others from the opposition parties lined up before the BJP bosses to get inducted last year, only to be disappointed at the turn of events that changed the state's politics completely.
Like Rane and Raj, Khadse also didn't cite many reasons for quitting the party. Both had a similar grudge: 'A particular person troubled and forced me to leave the party.' Khadse named ex-CM Devendra Fadnavis as his detractor.
For Rane and Raj, it was Uddhav Thackeray, the then-emerging Sena player and now the state's CM. There is one more similarity between Rane and Khadse. Both vowed to be a 'bounty hunter,' a potent threat against the detractors in their previous parties. But in politics, things don't always happen as wished for. The Sena's third CM has surpassed the time spent by the party's second CM (Rane) in Mantralaya's sixth-floor office and is determined to rule full-term. Rane, now a Rajya Sabha MP from BJP, is useful only when the BJP wants him to attack the Thackerays in anticipation of the breaking of the MVA. Rane's current influence in the Konkan region cannot be described as strong as it was a decade ago. Raj's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena couldn't sustain the electoral success it achieved initially.
Khadse, who led the BJP's first break-up with the Sena in 2014, and later continued to receive flak from the Sena leaders and the party's members of the cabinet that was stitched up post elections in 2014, was welcomed into the MVA fold by none other than Thackeray himself. The opposition leaders, who demanded his resignation following allegations of land scam, are now his esteemed party and coalition colleagues. An octogenarian leader, who once accused Khadse of brokering deals as opposition leader in the Assembly, is now his new mentor. Unpredictability is so synonymous with politics.
Where will Khadse go from here? Where will he take the NCP and BJP in his new capacity? Will the defection secure only his position and family? Will he be used as a pair of shoulders for attacking Fadnavis? The last possibility appears to be the NCP's priority. Khadse had been saying things against the ex-CM even while he was in the BJP. Considering that he was a leader of the party that swears by discipline, Khadse's statements would make a grand news material in the conventional and social media outlets. But his rhetoric, if not supported with strong facts and evidence that make up for bounty hunting, might lose its sharpness and public appeal. It will be interesting to see Khadse's threats of exposing corruption in the BJP materialising in the coming days. He claims to be in possession of the CDs (recorded footages) and promises to make them public if he is troubled by the Central agencies on the behest of the BJP's Union government.
Apart from creating anti-BJP and anti-Fadnavis perception, Khadse is tasked with expanding the NCP in Jalgaon district. It's a district predominantly in love with the BJP. A maverick in Sharad Pawar's words, Khadse has contributed a great deal to the BJP's dominance and is now expected to do the same for the NCP. But then there are others in the BJP, who also helped the party to grow and were given the strength recently. One such leader is Khadse's long-time bête noire Girish Mahajan, who shot into unprecedented prominence in the Fadnavis' Cabinet. Majahan should be seen getting a bigger role in north Maharashtra where NCP promises to use Khadse's socio-political assets.
Interestingly, while hundreds of others have promised to be with him, the Khadse family's loyalty remains split. His daughter-in-law Raksha, a two-time MP from Raver, hasn't made up her mind to join her in-laws. Her decision is expected – either ahead of a grand show of Khadse's strength is held in Jalgaon or ahead of the 2024 general elections. If the BJP prevails over Raksha, the segment may have the family members fighting against each other.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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