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How Modi became the face of BJP in Maharashtra

October 14, 2014 16:54 IST

With no state leaders worth projecting, the BJP was left with no option but to focus on Modi for the Maharashtra assembly poll and harp on the importance on smooth Centre-state relations, says N Suresh.

In the Lok Sabha elections in May, Narendra Modi was the face of change and his party won a simple majority on its own, the first time the Bharatiya Janata Party had tasted this sort of success at the Centre.

Now, in Maharashtra too, the BJP wants to secure a clear majority on its own. Despite its recent not-so-good performance in the by-polls across India, the BJP initially did try to bully its 25-year-old ally, the Shiv Sena, into conceding more seats for it. When the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena did not fall for the demand, the BJP after many threats called it quits and is contesting all 288 seats on its own. In such a scenario, one would think that the BJP has a fine state leadership and a face to lead the party to victory. The truth is, it doesn't.

Within the BJP itself there was tremendous rivalry. So while on one hand the party was accused of bullying the Sena for the chief minister’s chair, within the party there was no clear face to lead the party. When Gopinath Munde was alive he had publicly aired his desire to become chief minister. And this is the same leader who both the BJP and Sena say had he been alive, the alliance would have survived.

There seems to be a game of musical chairs going on within the BJP. Why is it that after Pramod Mahajan and Munde, the BJP has been unable to showcase a leader who has the people’s trust and confidence? The current state president, Devendra Fadnavis, hails from Nagpur, headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and is said to be their blue-eyed boy. The minute Fadnavis expressed his desire to become CM, news of him being an upper-caste (Brahmin) began making the rounds of the media. Soon the Congress and NCP made it an issue, asking voters whether they would like an upper-caste chief minister in a state which has been ruled predominantly by Marathas.

Suddenly, thus, caste politics began to dominate the polls. Another state BJP leader, Vinod Tawde, was one of the first to object and said a Maratha or OBC should represent the people of Maharashtra and began to portray Pankaja Munde Palve, Munde’s daughter, a ‘woman and backward caste’, as CM.

Tawde did not deny he was also in the reckoning for the post. Soon his party colleague Eknath Khadse too threw his hat into the ring. Till then even Nitin Gadkari, a Union minister who is not in the good books of Modi, had dreamt of running the show in the state before singing a different tune subsequently.

Narendra Modi then decided to send BJP president Amit Shah to Maharashtra to handle the crisis, following which the BJP split with the Sena. After that the central leadership took over the decision-making in the state. This was in the first week of October, and the BJP still did not have a face to put to its campaign. Anticipating a huge setback, the BJP left it to Amit Shah to handle the planning and campaigning and he made Modi the face of the elections, yet again.

However, slowly Fadnavis has been given a place of honour and share the dais with Modi, and it is now being signalled that he will be the BJP's CM candidate -- if the party wins a majority. I am not sure whether the BJP really understands the voters’ mindset. When they do not repose confidence in their own state leaders, do they expect the voters to do so? Do they really think the voter will come out in large numbers to vote in the name of Modi once again?

This is not the best of times for parties like the BJP, Nationalist Congress Party and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The BJP, which has mocked the Congress over dynasty politics and corruption, has itself given tickets to candidates who have quit the Congress and NCP after facing corruption charges. Both Fadnavis and Pankaja are also children of politicians, so what dynasty is one talking of?

The BJP realised it would have to face more questions over such issues in the short time left for campaigning, and smartly focused on Modi and portrayed the need to have a smooth Centre-state relationship. Will it work? We will know this Sunday.

N Suresh