India’s Election Commission is soon likely to announce the dates for the assembly elections in Maharashtra. Most political pandits say the assembly polls are likely to be held before festive season of Diwali. While the firecrackers of Diwali are still yet to arrive, political fireworks are very much already happening in the state. Perhaps the state has never seen so many defections in such a short period as literally dozens of established leaders are changing sides and crossing over from the Congress or Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to either the BJP or its alliance partner Shiv Sena.
In the past four months political heavywieghts from almost all regions of the state were seen crossing over to the BJP or Shiv Sena. Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil from Ahmednagar, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil from Solapur district, Dilip Sopal from Barshi and Sachin Ahir from Mumbai were the prominent faces among scores of leaders joining the saffron alliance. Now there is buzz about two very senior NCP leaders being in talks with the BJP to cross over to the party.
The official stand the BJP has taken is to suggest that all these leaders have crossed over without any conditions and they have not at all been promised any positions or any candidature. However what we saw happening in highly politically active district of Ahmednagar in the last poll season suggest something else. Radhkrishna Vikhe –Patil’s son Sujay entered the BJP before the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP said that he was entering without conditions and then he was given the saffron party’s candidature to fight the Lok Sabha polls, later once it was clear that the BJP had swept Lok Sabha polls, Vikhe-Patil himself too crossed over to the BJP and was subsequently given a cabinet berth in Devendra Fadnavis’s government. So the precedent shows that the BJP would reward the heavyweights from Congress and NCP who cross over to their side and give them preference over party loyalists when selecting the cabinet.
The BJP has to reward these leaders and give them ministerial berths because they have a stronghold over their respective districts and it is inevitable for the party to make them the chiefs on their turf. So it now becomes clear that if the BJP returns to power after October 2019 assembly polls in Maharashtra, the cabinet will have several faces who were in power in the state government for decades during the Congress-NCP rule!
Leaders such as Mohite-Patil, Dilip Sopal, Sachin Ahir and Vikhe-Patil will demand positions in the government and be faces of the new BJP regime in Maharashtra. How BJP’s alliance partner Shiv Sena will shape their part of the cabinet will also be interesting to watch. But it is more or less clear that if the saffron alliance returns to power, Maharashtra will have just the same faces ruling the state, that were in power for a long time in the past.