The BJP’s Oliver Twist

The BJP’s Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari have almost always never agreed on anything. There was a time, some three/four years ago, when the two had literally come to blows. That was when Gadkari was the Maharashtra BJP president and Pramod Mahajan had lately passed away. Gadkari was against Munde going on a yatra round Maharashtra in the aftermath of massive floods following an unusually active monsoon in Marathwada. BJP leaders begged the media not to report the incident. Th media complied. But journalists, laughiingly, have ever since been saying Gadkari should have sat on Munde during that fight — and squashed him once and for all!

For now the two leaders come to verbal blows almost every six months or so. The last time that the fight became very public was in 2008 when Munde had similarly thrown tantrums about the appointment of Madhu Chavan, a Gadkari acolyte, as the president of the Bombay unit of the BJP. Now he is quibbling over the appointment of another Gadkari supporter as the president of the Pune unit of the BJP.

One would think that Munde would rise above all these petty squabbles. After all he has been given everything he ever wanted by his party. Yet, Munde has always wanted more (See my column anandan on wednesday).

Undoubtedly, Munde is the BJP’s star campaigner in his home state and, notwithstanding the fact that Gadkari is the BJP’s national president today, the party has little future without Munde in Maharashtra.

That is why he has been able to get away not once but twice with blackmailing his party leaders in New Delhi. The ‘rumour’ that he was about to join the Congress was just that – so much hogwash, perhaps floated by Munde himself, to increase his bargaining power with his own leaders.

There was a very telling comment that came from Sharad Pawar during the course of Munde’s battle with his party: “We have nothing to offer to Munde.”

The Congress’s position was pretty much the same, for Munde has been the Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister of Maharashtra before, during the Shiv Sena-BJP regime between 1995 and 1999. So he would certainly not have settled for a lesser position than that of the Chief Minister with the Congress or Deputy Chief Minister with Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.

Now both the Congress and the NCP have too many candidates of their own eyeing these coveted offices and neither would have wanted to add another contender to their long list of long-time aspirants. Moreover, unlike Narayan Rane, who came from the Konkan where both the Congress and the NCP were trying to up one another to build their own bases, and therefore wooed Rane until the end, both parties already have strong bases of their own in Marathwada from where Munde hails. They also have enough backward class leaders of their own to want to complicate their equations with the tall presence of Munde in their ranks.

Now Munde is putting the blame for those rumours on his rivals within the Maharashtra BJP an threatening to ‘fix’ them once and for all. Short of beating them up, as he attempted to do vis-à-vis Nitin Gadkari in the past (defeated only by the latter’s ample girth), I do not see how Munde can contain the aspirations of a rising younger generation within his own party for long.

For all Gadkari’s supporters are comparatively unknown youngsters with long innings ahead of them and they are not likely to want to play second fiddle to Munde’s supporters – all of them the kind who will never rise above themselves to make a mark of their own.

Actually, Munde had gotten pretty used to ruling the roost in his home state – being married to Pramod Mahajan’s sister the two also had a personal interest in keeping their flock together and sharing the spoils.

But I doubt how much of the BJP’s saffron ideology went down with Munde – he was on record as stating, “I am in the BJP because Pramod Mahajan is with the party. If he had chosen to join the Congress, I would have been in the Congress today.”

Not surprisingly, it was Munde who led the campaign to drop the likes of Sadhvi Rithambara from the party – I recall, soon after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, when the state BJP was preparing a list of campaigners in Maharashta, Munde raised severe objections to her and put his foot firmly down on allowing her to campaign in his constituency.

“She will spit out all kinds of rubbish about the minorities and I will lose the Muslim votes that might be coming to me otherwise,” he said. None of his party men’s pleading and cajoling would persuade him to the contrary. I later noticed that in the subsequent weeks Sadhvi Rithambara was not seen anywhere in Maharashtra at all and was gradually phased out by the BJP elsewhere in the country, too.

So while Munde might not be ideologically driven in the BJP and could find it not too difficult to fit into secular parties like the Congress or the NCP, he still carries too much baggage from the past for these two parties to be comfortable with his persona.

Yet, I am told, some lesser leaders within both these parties – in Maharashtra and New Delhi as well – thought it fit to grant him an audience when he was battling for supremacy within his own party. What – and why – was that, I wonder? It could only have been to help him frighten his own leaders to retain his supremacy within the BJP. For, Munde’s differences with Gadkari will not end in a hurry and a house divided against itself, could only help both the Congress and the NCP consolidate their gains not just in Marathwada but also other regions where the BJP might be getting stronger (like Vidarbha, Gadkari’s home turf).

The last we heard, Gadkari had invited Munde over to dinner at his home in Bombay. Given the utter distrust between the two, I do not know if that was an olive branch or would eventually prove to be the poison cup from which Munde would rather not have supped.

For, like Oliver Twist, he is always asking for more – even though he never had less to begin with!

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