BJP struggles with the choice of Munde's successor

Updated - May 23, 2016 05:42 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2014 11:56 am IST - MUMBAI:

The Bharatiya Janata party was relying on the late Union Minister Gopinath Munde to head its campaign for the Maharashtra elections due in October. >With his sudden death, it is struggling to find a replacement for the charismatic leader.

“We are still dealing with the shock of his death. Party president Rajnath Singh and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari will be meeting in the next ten days to decide on how to handle the Maharashtra polls,” said senior BJP leader Vinod Tawde.

The options are many but none have the combination of Munde’s mass base, his ability to nurture alliances and his political acumen.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, considered Munde’s arch-rival has shifted focus to the Centre and may not want to return to state politics. Though extremely close to the RSS, he lacks a mass following and has a rocky equation with the capricious Shiv Sena, the BJP’s alliance partner in Maharashtra. 

State BJP President Devendra Fadnavis is also in the running, with his followers coining the phrase, “Dilli mein Narendra, Maharashtra mein Devendra” (Narendra in Delhi and Devendra in Maharashtra). However, his base is limited to the Vidarbha region, mainly Nagpur city. Further, both he and Mr. Gadkari are Brahmins, which limits their appeal across the wider caste spectrum in the state.

The BJP’s North Maharashtra strongman Eknath Khadse could be another option but his following too is limited to that region. The party’s leader of Opposition in the State Council Vinod Tawde, is valued for his trouble-shooting and negotiation skills. He comes from the Maratha community which has a larger following in the state, but has never faced an election himself and lacks a base.

The acid test for any of these leaders would be handling the Shiv Sena. Munde was the party’s point-person with Shiv Sena, steering the party to the BJP’s advantage. With his death, the BJP could lose its bargaining position with the Shiv Sena at time when it is playing hard-ball over seat sharing for the state polls and has already staked claim to the Chief Minister’s post.

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