Central Hall – Rejig again?

Mumbai: Last week a comment from senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), former minister Sudhir Mungantiwar went relatively unnoticed. He once again indicated that the BJP was open for government formation with the Shiv Sena. Though no one from the Sena reacted to it, the comment however points to a possible rejig of political equations both at the Centre and in Maharashtra as well.

My colleague at The News 21, Vivek Bhavsar had reported on that possible reshuffle both at the Centre and in Maharashtra. The reshuffle might happen soon after the budget session of the Parliament.

It is an open secret that handling of the economy has not been her cup of tea for Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. After the demise of Arun Jaitley, the BJP has not been able to find an apt replacement for him, for he not only handled the ministry well, but also did the fire-fighting job for the party as well.

Her performance as a minister has left a lot to be desired for by the party at least. The BJP had been toying with the idea of inducting former banker, K V Kamath to replace her. If he does, he could join the illustrious pantheon of union finance minister’s like Chintamanrao Deshmukh and Madhu Dandavate.

Also Read: Central Hall – Steal the thunder?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP pretty well know that drastic measures are needed to turn the economy around. The slowdown, if not arrested in time, could well hurt the party’s electoral chances at least in the New Delhi and Bihar assembly elections. If it continues to loose state after state in assembly elections, the picture for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections does not look good either.

The BJP top brass had been toying with the idea of blooding the national leadership with younger leadership from the states, especially after the sudden demise of Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Manohar Parrikar and Ananth Kumar. The leadership vacuum in New Delhi is hurting the party at least in the New Delhi assembly elections.

The plan was to induct former BJP chief ministers – Devendra Fadnavis from Maharashtra, Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Madhya Pradesh) and Dr Raman Singh from Chhattisgarh into the national politics.

Ever since Devendra Fadnavis could not ensure BJP’s return to power in Maharashtra in October last year, party circles were rife with rumors of him being taken out of the state politics and elevated to the national political scene. Initially Fadnavis was reportedly not in favor of being elevated to the national political scene.

It may be recalled that even the Sena was not cool with Fadnavis continuing as the chief minister, especially after he famously bragged that he would come back again as the chief minister of Maharashtra, which he eventually did not. During his tenure, several state leaders like Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Chandrashekhar Bawankule, Pankaja Munde and others were cut down to size, which many feel was one of the causes that prevented the BJP from retaining power, besides the blind trust in Sena leadership.

If the leadership vacuum in Delhi is to be filled up soon, then there has to be a reshuffle at the state level also. In Maharashtra, Sudhir Mungantiwar might as well step into the shoes of Fadnavis as the new Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and a possible face of the next chief minister. Chandrakant Patil might as well continue as the state BJP president, with political rehabilitation of Eknath Khadse, Chandrashekhar Bawankule and Pankaja Munde.

The reshuffle might well happen around April when biennial elections to 7 Rajya Sabha seats are due. Given the respective numerical strengths and the fact that the elections are held by open ballot, the BJP can win three seats and Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) winning one seat. The BJP could well use the Rajya Sabha elections route to elevate Fadnavis into national politics.  It is not clear whether Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Dr Raman Singh will be the other two quota candidates from Maharashtra or not.

Although the BJP leadership may be dismissive of NCP posing any political challenge nationally, it still has to contend with it in Maharashtra at least. Both are currently locked down in a cloak and dagger game over the probe into the Koregaon-Bhima incident of January 2018. It is a political showdown that could well have a bearing on the Sena, Congress, and NCP led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle appears to be Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) which is being rebranded to take the Hindutva space of the Shiv Sena. If all these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into their place, the reshuffle could take place in the immediate near future.

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