The untimely death of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Maharashtra strongman Gopinath Munde has created a huge void in the party, and poses a challenge for it to find a successor before the state goes to assembly polls in September-October this year.
After Munde’s death, the BJP has only a few options. The party has to zero in on its chief ministerial candidate from one of three leaders -- Union Minister for Surface Transport Nitin Gadkari, state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis and Leader of Opposition in the state council Vinod Tawde. But the biggest handicap with them is that they can’t match Munde in terms of popularity.
Gadkari and Fadnavis belong to the Brahmin community and a section of party leaders believes that their projection might drive away the backward classes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, notified tribes and minorities from the party. This will give a handle to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance to paint the BJP as a party of Brahmins.
In Tawde’s case, though he comes from the politically-significant Maratha community, he has never fought an election.
However, some party functionaries feel the Modi factor will help the party win the election and that the chief ministerial candidate doesn’t matter. Modi is likely to have a major say in the selection of the chief ministerial candidate.
Munde’s leadership and his gamble to rope in parties such as the Republican Party of India, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha into the BJP-SS alliance had paid off, as the BJP's vote share increased to a record 27.56 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls. “This won’t happen if Gadkari, Fadnavis or Tawde lead the party,” said a party leader.
In the case of Tawde, who comes from the politically crucial Maratha community, he lacks a mass base. Tawde, who joined the BJP after starting his political career in the Akhil Bharatiya Janata Party, had never been elected to the state assembly but is a member of the state council.
However, some party functionaries argue that the Modi wave will not die down but will come to the party's rescue notwithstanding Gadkari or Fadnavis or Tawde as the party's face on the ground. The BJP hopes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a direct say in the selection of the party's chief ministerial candidate and his charisma will benefit the party to fill the vacuum created by Munde's demise.
As far as the BJP-Shive Sena led five-party alliance is concerned, allies who had come under one roof thanks to Munde's initiative will become aggressive to get more seats. The Shiv Sena has already announced that its party president Uddhav Thackeray would be its chief ministerial candidate, while other parties would press for a consensus candidate who may be acceptable for all.
A BJP leader said time was too short for the alliance to work on a poll strategy to dislodge the Congress-NCP alliance government.