A day after quitting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Eknath Khadse, who is set to join the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), said 10 BJP MLAs were in touch with him, but they may not quit the party now. He said a few former legislators and local leaders from north Maharashtra will join the NCP, along with him, in the presence of party chief Sharad Pawar. He also claimed the NCP had offered him candidature for the Assembly polls, after the BJP denied him an election ticket last year, even as he stepped up attack on former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, saying the BJP’s formula to take backward classes together was thrown away, after Fadnavis took over the party’s affairs in the state.

Khadse was a prominent leader of the BJP from north Maharashtra and enjoys a significant hold in the region. He comes from Leva Patil, one of the OBC communities that has a sizable population in north Maharashtra.

The region comprises 35 Assembly seats. Of them, the BJP won 13 seats, one less than 2014, in the state Assembly polls held last year. The NCP won seven seats, while the Shiv Sena six and Congress five MLAs in the region. AIMIM won two seats and two independents were also elected in the last Assembly polls.

With Khadse’s induction, NCP leaders are hoping the party would get stronger in the region. Sitting BJP MLA Sanjay Savkare (Bhusawal) is considered close to him. “Most leaders who are close to Khadse were denied tickets in the last assembly elections. This was done to cut Khadse to size,” said a close aide to Khadse. Of the 11 Assembly seats in Jalgaon district, Khadse’s hometown, most have a significant population of the Leva Patil community that supports the 68-year-old leader, who has won elections from Muktainagar for six consecutive terms.

“I have support of over 10 sitting MLAs, but none will join us as anti-defection law will come into force and we don’t want unnecessary elections during the coronavirus pandemic. But there are 15-16 former legislators, who will gradually join the NCP. A few of them will be joining along with me on Friday,” Khadse told HT.

Besides, his daughter-in-law and Raver BJP Raksha Khadse may follow in his footsteps. “With Raksha Khadse, the BJP is likely to lose a sitting MP as well as many MLAs in the coming future,” claimed one of his close aides, requesting anonymity.

Continuing his attack on Devendra Fadnavis, now the leader of Opposition, Khadse said the BJP was considered a party of Brahmins and Baniyas.

“To get rid of this tag and expand party’s social base, MADHAV formula (which stoods for ‘M’ali, ‘Dha’ngar and ‘V’anjari communities) was suggested by veteran BJP leader Vasantji Bhagwat. The formula helped us change the party’s image, but soon after Fadnavis took over, he stopped its implementation. He deliberately denied election tickets to many leaders from OBC communities who would have easily won the Assembly polls,” he alleged.

“I had so many opportunities to join other parties as they were also keen to take me in. But being loyal to the BJP, I didn’t take that step. In 2019, after the BJP denied me a ticket for the Assembly polls, senior NCP leaders such as Ajit Pawar, Dilip Walse Patil contacted me. The party had also sent their AB form to contest the polls. Had I taken up the opportunity, I would have been elected as an MLA again,” he said.

Taking potshots at Fadnavis, he said it is because of his “able leadership” the BJP is not in the government despite winning maximum seats. “The situation would have been different if the leadership had decided to join hands with the Shiv Sena,” he said, raising questions on Fadnavis’s leadership. “My decision of joining the NCP is immoral and taking oath at 5am in the morning along with the respected Ajit Dada Pawar was a moral move,” taunted the former BJP leader.

On Thursday, Khadse reached Mumbai in a chopper along with his wife Mandatai and daughter Rohini to formally join the NCP. The plan to organise a grand event in Jalgaon district is also under consideration, where all his supporters will formally join the ruling party in presence of the NCP leadership. The event will be organized later as political meetings are still not allowed in the state.

Damania refutes his allegations

Social activist Anjali Damania refuted former BJP leader Eknath Khadse’s claims that she hounded him. Damania who had filed the case against Khadse for using derogatory language against her, alleged she was harassed by Khadse.

“I pursued corruption charges against Chhagan Bhujbal and Nitin Gadkari also, but they did not harass me like what Khadse did,” said Damania. “Khadse and his aides filed 32 cases against me in six districts across Maharashtra.

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