Will Nitin Gadkari be Maharashtra’s next Chief Minister?

Union minister Nitin Gadkari

Mumbai/New Delhi, Oct 22: Union Minister and former party president Nitin Gadkari may emerge as the contender for the Maharashtra chief minister’s job if Devendra Fadnavis fails to become a consensus candidate for the top job in the politically powerful western state.

A report published in a newspaper reported the divide in the state party unit which came out in the open on Tuesday as 39 of its 44 Vidarbha MLAs took a flight from Mumbai to Nagpur and asked Nitin Gadkari to take over as the Chief Minister.

After the BJP’s big win in Maharashtra, the divide in the state party unit came out in the open on Tuesday as 39 of its 44 Vidarbha MLAs took a flight from Mumbai to Nagpur and asked Union Minister and former party president Nitin Gadkari to take over as the Chief Minister.

All the 44 MLAs had earlier supported state party president Devendra Fadnavis, who is seen as the frontrunner for the top post.

Gadkari has ruled out returning to state politics, but added that the final decision on his new assignment would be taken by the party’s high command.

Another report citing sources said that Gadkari may take a definite stand after meeting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur on October 25.

In Nagpur, one of the MLAs reportedly said they wanted Gadkari to take over “since Maharashtra needs able leadership” and he “is experienced and more able.”

The development has brought out the much-speculated turf war between Nitin Gadkari and Devendra Fadnavis.

The newspaper report citing sources described the development as a show of strength — and a message to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. BJP sources said, “Gadkari has sensed that the central leadership is keen on picking Fadvavis as the CM. So he is trying to reassert his political might in the state.”

“At a rally in Nagpur, Modi declared that Fadnavis was Nagpur’s gift to Maharashtra. Gadkari reckons that even if Fadnavis becomes the CM, the central leadership should realise that he (Gadkari) has the support of most of the MLAs from Vidarbha,” a close aide of Gadkari reportedly added.

Since Gadkari and Fadnavis hail from Vidarbha, the rift surfaced during last year’s elections for the state BJP president. While Gadkari supported Mungantiwar, the late Gopinath Munde backed Fadnavis.

It may be noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while campaigning, praised Fadnavis as “Nagpur’s gift to the nation”, sparking rumours that he was the favoured candidate for the CM’s chair. But with the BJP falling short of a majority in the 288-member assembly, the party may need a chief minister with more experience.

Sources said the RSS may also want a more seasoned politician like Gadkari to hold the reins of the state instead of experimenting with Fadnavis, who has never worked in government in his 15-year-long political career.

Former Maharashtra BJP chief and Gadkari aide Sudhir Mungantiwar said Gadkari would be the better choice in these circumstances: “Every leader and worker of the BJP wants Gadkari to return to the state. He would make a perfect CM.”

Meanwhile, the BJP made it clear that it is keeping all options open, as the party general secretary, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, reporteely said: “The process of formation of government will now take place after the Diwali celebrations.”

At the BJP headquarters in Mumbai, the party put up a notice declaring a holiday for the next four days. The newly-elected BJP MLAs are yet to elect their legislature party leader.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has deputed two senior party leaders — Anil Desai and Subhash Desai — to hold discussions with Rajnath Singh and other central BJP leaders.

Home minister Rajnath Singh will also travel to Mumbai after Diwali to meet the newly elected BJP MLAs and decide on the leadership issue and government formation in Maharashtra.

Singh will visit Mumbai as BJP observer along with senior leader JP Nadda to help the MLAs chose the leader of the BJP legislature party.

(With Agency Inputs)

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