Is Nitin Gadkari being sidelined by BJP?
Gadkari did not share a stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s in Nashik last month to mark the end of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s statewide campaign yatra. The 25 rallies that Gadkari held have been within the Vidarbha region.
As the state goes to polls next week and the party scrambles to add last minute touches to its star-studded campaign, the Union road transport and highways minister is conspicuous by his absence in major BJP rallies. In fact, Gadkari has largely been sidelined from the affairs of the poll-bound state despite being one of the BJP’s tallest leaders from Maharashtra.
Since campaigning kicked off in the state on October 7, the senior leader has held 25 rallies but all within Vidarbha. Comprising 60 assembly seats, Vidarbha stretches from Buldhana in the west to Gadchiroli in the east.
His absence from two key events is also being seen as a rebuff. Gadkari did not share a stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s in Nashik last month to mark the end of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s statewide campaign yatra. He was also missing from the rally held by BJP president and Union home minister Amit Shah in the city.
Gadkari had virtually no say in ticket distribution either. His staunch supporter and state energy and excise minister Chandrashekhar Bawannkule was denied a ticket, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, considered part of Gadkari’s coterie, also did not find any role in the elections.
Attempts to clip Gadkari’s wings began since Modi began his second term in May. In his first cabinet, Gadkari had held three crucial portfolios - surface transport, shipping and water resources. He was stripped of shipping and water resources in the second tenure.
Besides this, there also have been systematic attempts to put breaks on the implementation of Gadkari’s amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act which allows for stringent fines for traffic violations. Two BJP-ruled states, Gujarat and Maharashtra, have refused to implement the rule.
The Gadkari-Fadnavis none quation Gadkari’s relationship with Fadnavis has also been icy although the two maintain a friendly public image for optics.
It began in 1999, when Fadnavis was given first a BJP ticket from Nagpur despite Gadkari’s reservations. During Gadkari’s cold war with former union rural development minister Gopinath Munde, Fadnavis was part of Munde’s camp.
In 2013, when Fadnavis’s name was doing the rounds for the post of state unit president, Gadkari was pushing for his protegee Mungantiwar.
Apart from this, in 2014, a few days before the BJP legislature meeting in which Fadnavis was elected as a leader of the party, of the 44 MLAs from Vidarbha 39 wanted Gadkari to be the chief minister.
And given this history, Modi-Shah’s designs are working perfectly for Fadnavis.
A text message sent to Fadnavis did not elicit any response at the time of going to press. BJP spokesman Keshav Upadhyay, however, was quick to rubbish the reports. “Gadkari is a national leader and he is also campaigning in Haryana. There are three more days to go, he will campaign in other parts of the state also,” he said.
Political analysts feel that he may be paying the price for his popularity. Prakash Akolkar told Mirror, “All leaders try to bring down their potential rivals and Modi’s attempt to cut Gadkari down to size are part of his efforts to make him irrelevant in the larger scheme of things for BJP.”