The shouting match between senior BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde in public has brought severe embarrassment to the party in the State.
Over the past few days, the old rivals have bickered over key election issues. On the raging toll collection debate, Mr. Munde said the BJP would make the State toll-free if voted to power; Mr. Gadkari, however, dubbed the promise unviable.
“Economically, it is not possible to get rid of toll. If toll is scrapped, the government may have to pay Rs.1.7 lakh crore to contractors,” Mr. Gadkari said at an interaction organised by a media house. It was during Mr. Gadkari’s tenure as Public Works Minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP regime that toll collection received a major boost.
The duo locked horns again over Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s acceptability in the NDA. At a rally on Sunday, Mr. Munde claimed, “Mr. Pawar wanted to join the NDA, but I opposed it.” A day later, Mr. Gadkari welcomed all parties, including the NCP, to join the alliance.
State BJP leaders feel the little slugfest is hurting the party’s image.
“After Narendra Modi was declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the cadre in the State was energised. This public fight is making us look like a divided house,” said a senior BJP leader.
The two leaders have shared an uneasy relationship for years. Late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan always backed his brother-in-law Mr. Munde in State politics and Mr. Gadkari had to be content playing second fiddle. However, it was Mr. Gadkari who later rose to be the BJP national president, overtaking Mr. Munde in the hierarchy.