Recently a senior minister and an important member of the BJP, Eknath Khadse was forced to resign amidst allegations of corruption and connection to the Dawood Ibrahim mafia. The manner in which the drama unfolded, from an accusation by an unknown hacker who made claims that he “found” call records of Dawood’s wife’s phone-calls to Khadse; to accusations of land-grabbing by Khade’s family, has set-off discussions among the rank-and-file of the party as to how the “Brahmin” Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is trying to consolidate his caste superiority by marginalizing Khadse who is from the Other Backwards Caste (OBC).
This may or may not be true and would definitely go against the core values of the BJP, but the fact remains that this thought exists among the Dalit (members of the lower castes as per the traditional caste system) sections of the party.
One must also remember that when the BJP had announced Devendra Fadnavis as its Chief Minister for Maharashtra during the State Gov formation; Khadse had expressed his disappointment at this decision, stating that the BJP CM should have been from the Dalits, namely; himself. As the leader of the opposition, when Congress party was in power, and as the senior-most leader in BJP; this was actually his moral right; but the party leaders thought otherwise. Initially there were murmurs of discontent among the sections of Ministers and leaders who belong to various castes, but this seemed to have been resolved over time by accommodations and adjustments. The flip side of these appeasements has been that most ministers in the Fadnavis Gov act and behave like rulers, rather than following the example of their senior-most leader and Prime Minister, who is always focused on being at the service of the Nation.
The fact that many BJP leaders and Ministers of Maharashtra had been accused of scams in the first year of being in power, and that CM Fadnavis had been accused of shielding them; did put a huge shadow on the reputation of the State Govt. But, as more and more contenders to the Chief Minister’s chair started getting caught up in controversies, it enhanced the reputation of Devendra Fadnavis as Mr. Clean of Maharashtra politics. To maintain this reputation, Fadnavis had to take action and it seems that Khadse was the first to face the axe.
Khadse has been accused of many wrong-doings. Similar accusations had been made in the past against Pankaja Mundhe and Vinod Tawde. While Chief Minister Fadnavis showed solidarity with these two, he backed away fast from professing any solidarity with Khadse and it fell upon the shoulders of Raosaheb Danve-Patil (the President of Maharashtra BJP)
to show some kind of solidarity with Khadse, maybe in an effort to placate the Dalit sections of the party. It is quite possible that Fadnavis may be of the opinion that the allegations against Khadse are of very serious nature and hence he does not want to be seen as taking sides until an investigation is completed and Khadse is found either guilty or innocent.
By refusing to show solidarity with Khadse, ensuring his resignation from office and trying to preserve his own halo of being a ‘clean’ politician, Devendra Fadnavis may have tried to pull off a political hat-trick, but the consequences at the grass root level are yet to be seen. The allegations against Khadse are supposedly being investigated by a fast-track Court and if he is found innocent, his position within the party would be consolidated strongly. Whether it will be strong enough to unseat Fadnavis from the CM chair is debatable. Currently, the Chief Minister has consolidated and strengthened his own position. Interestingly, while the various Dalit leaders have higher numbers in the party and a larger grass-roots base, their infighting among themselves and a lack of a strong leader who can unite them has kept them from gaining strength. Rather than finding common ground for unity, they are occupied with back-biting and trying to keep others from succeeding.
The discontent between Dalit and Brahmin sections of leadership in BJP is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2003, when Suryabhan Vahadne Patil had been the State President of BJP, he and the other Dalit leaders Danve-Patil and Jaisingrao Gaikwad had complained against the ‘high-handed’ attitude and 5-star culture allegedly followed by Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan. Public accusations of financial corruption against the latter had also been made. At that time, to counter these accusations, Munde had to advertise his OBC credentials.
The Maratha lobby is made up of various sections which are defined by their caste status of Brahmins, Backward Caste, Other backward caste, Scheduled caste, Scheduled tribes, et al. But, since the politics of Maharashtra is personality–centric and ego-centric , every leader of each section is determinedly pushing their own agenda, and this prevents them from uniting as one force. Their ego and lust for power ensures that they are frequently accused of corruption and unethical politics. And they forget that caste is not an excuse for corruption.
There is no connection whatsoever between caste and corruption; is a fact that has been recognized by the voters and supporters of BJP and therefore in the future there will be more support for those leaders who are not in anyways connected to corruption or immoral controversies.
Maharashtra has had one clean and morally upright politician and statesman in Yashwantrao Chavan; the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra State and who was also later, the Deputy Prime Minister of India. He was known to unite all sections of political leadership and include them in the development process. He was highly respected and admired, to the point of being called “Prati- Shivaji” (meaning new Shivaji Maharaj or the Avatar of Shivaji Maharaj).
Unfortunately, over the past two decades, the issue of religion versus secularism has taken priority. This has divided society into religious sections and these sections into sub-sections of caste and creed and regionalism. With political power in Maharashtra consolidated primarily in the hands of leaders like Sharad Pawar and Nitin Gadkari, there is constant dissatisfaction among the second level leadership in all political parties, BJP included. Each ‘leader’ thinks of himself or herself as the next Chief Ministerial choice, hence they are unable to find any kind of unity. This allows Mr. Clean to rule without much discomfort.
As history has shown us in the past, the original Mr. Clean (Rajiv Gandhi) lost his shine and his reputation with the revelations of the Bofors corruption scandal. The new Mr. Clean can only hope that no such skeleton falls out of his cupboard in the near future.
#1 [Fadnavis & Khadse] – India.com
#2 [Raosaheb Danve Patil] – International news
#3 [Y.B. Chavan] – Indus source
#4 [Mr. Clean] – gmcneet.com