Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday appointed prominent Other Backward Class (OBC) leader and MLC Chandrashekhar Bawankule from Vidarbha region as the new president of the party’s Maharashtra unit after former BJP State chief Chandrakant Patil was recently inducted into the new cabinet as a minister.
According to a party statement issued here, BJP National President J.P. Nadda appointed Chandrashekhar Bawankule as the Maharashtra State Chief and Bandra West MLA Ashish Shelar as the new president of the BJP’s Mumbai unit.
The names of both Chandrashekhar Bawankule and Ashish Shelar for their respective posts were doing the rounds for the last few days after both leaders did not find a place in the new cabinet, in which 18 ministers (nine each from the BJP and the Eknath Shinde-led Sena faction).
The move to appoint prominent OBC leader Chandrashekhar Bawankule as the BJPs state unit president assumes significance, considering the fact that another senior OBC leader Eknath Khadse quit the party and joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Besides this the other prominent OBC leader from Beed district in Marathwada region of the state, Pankaja Munde-Palve is out in the political wilderness of sorts now. Secondly, the move also assuages the hurt feeling of Chandrashekhar Bawankule who was denied party ticket in the 2019 Assembly elections, which also cost the party dearly in the Vidarbha region. He however, was later elected in the recent Legislative Council elections.
Considering the fact that Shiv Sena faction leader, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, is a Maratha face while Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis a Brahmin leader, Chandrashekhar Bawankule’s appointment to the post of BJP State President completes the caste symmetry the party has been seeking for.
The OBC community accounts for a significant percentage (more than 35% as per the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission) of the State’s population.
Last year, during the tenure of the then Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government led by Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, the Supreme Court had scrapped the 27% OBC reservation in the state’s local bodies for not fulfilling the “triple test” criteria.
The BJP led by Devendra Fadnavis accused the MVA of dragging its feet over the issue while alleging that the tripartite coalition had virtually “murdered” the OBC reservation issue in the State.
Against this backdrop, the appointment of Chandrashekhar Bawankule, an influential and aggressive leader from the Vidarbha region has been done keeping an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections.
Likewise, Ashish Shelar’s appointment comes in wake of the upcoming high-stakes Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) poll, which will see the BJP-rebel Sena faction (led by Eknath Shinde) being pitted against Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena faction.
Ashish Shelar, a former minister in the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Sena government (2014-2019), replaces Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who has been given a cabinet berth like Chandrakant Patil.
Commenting on Ashish Shelar’s appointment, BJP national general secretary Vinod Tawde said “The fact that our high command has nominated an experienced leader like Ashish Shelar as Mumbai city chief has special importance. In the last civic poll (2017), he was responsible for helping the BJP gain 82 seats (in the BMC) from its earlier tally of 35.”
The cash-rich BMC, said to be the richest civic body in Asia, is the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena’s lifeline and power-base and the party’s major resource centre in Maharashtra.
While the Sena has held absolute sway over the Mumbai civic body for two decades, the BJP riding high on the Narendra Modi wave in 2017 had rattled its former ally the Shiv Sena in the 2017 civic body poll, when it snared 82 of the total 227 seats second only to the Sena’s tally of 84 seats.
The Sena had later increased its strength to 97 with the support of some independents and the defection of some corporators from the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
In a bid to retain control over the BMC, Uddhav Thackeray, during his tenure as the chief minister, had increased the number of Mumbai’s municipal wards from 227 to 236 wards. The move had annoyed its MVA ally, the Congress. Soon after Eknath Shinde became Chief Minister, he immediately reversed the Thackeray government’s decision to increase the number of wards, keeping it to 227 wards.