The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have worked out a face-saving formula for itself and its sulking leader Gopinath Munde. He announced here on Wednesday that he has been with the BJP and will “remain with the BJP”.
While officially no word was available on the ‘formula,' it is learnt that the BJP will very soon announce that Mr. Munde will lead its campaign for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra. The elections are still more than a couple of years away, but the announcement will mean the party's recognition that Mr. Munde is its top leader in the State.
The crisis, which was expected by some to end in his departure from the party, seems to be over for the moment. It was after a meeting with Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj at her residence that Mr. Munde, who is her deputy on the House, told journalists: “I am in the BJP. I will remain in the BJP. News reports that I am quitting [the party] are wrong.”
Ms. Swaraj said Mr. Munde had placed his views and spoken about his grievances to senior leaders at appropriate party meetings. She was not present when he met other leaders a couple of days earlier. And on Wednesday, “he came to speak to me and explain his point of view.”
Mr. Munde rejected reports that suggested he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel. “I have never met Ahmed Patel in my life.” He also rubbished a suggestion that he was in touch with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. He was conveying views of his followers in the party to the leadership and it was “up to the leadership to find solutions.”
Reports from the Congress camp over the past few days suggested that Mr. Munde was in touch with some senior Congress leaders.
The crisis may be over for now, but party insiders familiar with the power equations in Maharashtra suggest that this time Mr. Munde may have gone a bit too far, and this will not be easily forgotten. The tension between BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Mr. Munde is too real and too serious to die down completely, and it could surface again.
The BJP did try to assuage Mr. Munde's hurt feelings owing to the fact that his departure would have left a big hole in its State unit. He could have hurt its prospects in some 20-25 constituencies by taking away at least 8000-10,000 votes, making a big difference to the outcome. Victory margins in many Assembly segments range from just a few hundred to a couple of thousand votes.
For several decades, Mr. Munde had been the BJP's backward caste face in Maharashtra. He enjoyed a considerable clout in the State, even when Mr. Gadkari, a Brahmin, was the State party chief immediately before he became the national president of the party towards the end of 2009. Mr. Munde's woes began with the death of his mentor and brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan and later the unexpected “promotion” of Mr. Gadkari.