Power play in ruling alliance as Bhujbal takes on Jarange-Patil - Hindustan Times
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Power play in ruling alliance as Bhujbal takes on Jarange-Patil

ByShailesh Laxman Gaikwad
Nov 20, 2023 07:22 AM IST

Chhagan Bhujbal, a two-time deputy chief minister, is taking on Maratha reservation activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, positioning himself as an OBC leader. Bhujbal is receiving support from both his party boss Ajit Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis, as the ruling alliance seeks to maintain support from both Marathas and OBCs. The opposition believes there is a match-fixing between the ruling alliance leaders. The deadline set by Jarange-Patil for the government to decide on Marathas' inclusion in the OBC category is December 24, and both communities are preparing for a showdown. Some BJP leaders think that Jarange-Patil's agitation will lose steam as his demand for all Marathas to be given Kunbi caste certificates is legally untenable. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who was recovering from dengue, quickly made a recovery and resumed his political activities. Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ruled out shifting to national politics and may be back as chief minister soon, depending on the Supreme Court's ruling on a disqualification petition against Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

Chhagan Bhujbal loves it when he faces strong opposition. In fact, he thrives in such a situation, as seen in the past. Little wonder, when Bhujbal got an opportunity to lead the attack against Maratha reservation activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, he did not back out. He trained the guns on Jarange-Patil when nobody from the ruling or opposition parties were willing to criticise the latter.

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Now, he is the most hated name for Maratha quota activists but the two-time deputy chief minister is loving the attention and eyeing a bigger role. His Friday’s speech at Other Backward Classes (OBC) rally at Jalna was a clear indication that he wants to take up the OBC leadership in the state. Going by the grapevine in the ruling alliance, he is getting support of both the deputy chief ministers—his party boss Ajit Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis. For BJP and Fadnavis, showing support to the OBCs is important as the community has been a traditional support base of the party. Pawar is not happy with the way chief minister Eknath Shinde has been handling the Maratha agitation while his party colleagues are irked with the CM for taking credit for “successfully’ handling the agitation. If OBCs come out on the streets and oppose the government, Shinde’s plans could get restricted.

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On the other hand, opposition MVA leaders are convinced that there is match fixing between the ruling alliance leaders so that they could keep both Marathas and OBCs on their side. That’s why while Shinde and Co are keeping Jarange-Patil happy, Bhujbal and BJP leaders are raising the voice for the OBCs. Will it work? We will come to know after December 24 when the deadline set by Jarange-Patil for the government to take a decision on including Marathas in the OBC category ends. Both communities are gearing up for a showdown and the government will have to tread cautiously.

Will Jarange-Patil go the Hardik Patel way?

While Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil is posing a challenge before the three-party alliance government in the state, some leaders from the BJP, think that the activist’s agitation would lose steam after some time as his demand that all Marathas should be given Kunbi caste certificate is not legally tenable if challenged in the courts.

A top BJP leader recently drew a similarity between Patel-Patidar community agitation in Gujarat for reservation led by Hardik Patel and the one led by Jarange-Patil in Maharashtra. Hardik was once immensely popular and his rallies drew crowds of hundreds of thousands of people but it fizzled out later. Now, he is in BJP and maintaining a low profile. The party leader opined that Jarange-Patil has gone too far on the quota issue. No political party in Maharashtra can afford to fully support his demand and draw the ire of the OBC communities who are as strong as Marathas in terms of numbers though they are scattered. Besides, it is not yet known whether the screening committees for caste certificates that are appointed in each district would validate Kunbi certificates being given to Marathas now. If that doesn’t happen, the agitation could fizzle out after some time, they think. Unlike Hardik, Jarange-Patil has not shown any political ambitions yet.

A tale of quick recovery

In the middle of Maratha agitations, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar was out of action due to dengue. On November 8, he posted on X that he would not be able to meet his supporters for the next few days as he was recovering from dengue. Doctors had advised him to avoid crowded places, he said.

But then, two days later, he appeared in Delhi and was seen greeting union home minister Amit Shah on a courtesy call. Later, he was seen celebrating Bhaubeej at his Baramati home and hosting family members including former mentor and now political rival, Sharad Pawar. On Wednesday, he was at Wankhede Stadium, watching India versus New Zealand semi-final match. The recovery was indeed fast, as his alliance colleagues are pointing out.

No shifting to Delhi for Fadnavis

Deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has made it clear that he won’t be shifting to national politics anytime soon. According to his close aides, he has ruled out contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha elections as being speculated in the party. Following this, his aides are now hopeful that he will be back as chief minister soon. Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar will have to give a ruling (on disqualification petition against chief minister Shinde) by December 31 as asked by the Supreme Court and Uddhav Thackeray won’t spend much time to approach the apex court if CM Shinde is not disqualified. In case the apex court does what Thackeray is expecting, there would no better candidate than Fadnavis to handle the state ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, they point out. Of course, conditions apply.

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