Mumbai, (Samajweekly) Senior Maharashtra politician Eknath G. Khadse on Friday formally joined the Nationalist Congress Party with a veiled warning to the Bharatiya Janata Party, of whose he was a devoted and diligent member for four decades.
“If you have the ED, I will show you the CD..!” Khadse, 68, said in a lighter vein, but clearly alluding to the oft-repeated charges that the BJP lets loose central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate, the Income Tax Department, and others to hound its political opponents.
In a similar tone, NCP state chief and Minister Jayant Patil, while lauding the former north Maharashtra strongman’s decision, said it will send a signal to the BJP that “Tiger Zinda Hai” and “picture abhi baaki hai”, hinting at more and many to come after Khadse.
NCP President Sharad Pawar warmly welcomed Khadse, saying “this is a happy day for the party” who built the BJP in the state for over 40 years.
“We have to strengthen the party in many areas… I am confident that Khadse’s long political experience will prove invaluable for us,” he said.
The NCP virtually laid out a red carpert welcome for Khadse, his daughter Rohini Khadse-Khevalkar and another 72 prominent supporters who joined the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi ally.
The new entrants were lustily cheered inside the auditorium and hundreds sitting on roads outside, watching the proceedings live on giant TV screens, a day after Khadse took a chopper ride from Jalgaon to Mumbai.
Patil said it was unfortunate that such a senior leader was humiliated by the BJP on trumped-up charges despite his contributions to building the party for four decades.
Replying to the felicitations, Khadse recounted the “humiliation and torture” he faced in the past four years, for which he has repeatedly blamed former BJP Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, currently Leader of Opposition.
“Till the last minute, senior central BJP leaders tried to make me change my mind… Others at the Centre made it clear that given the circumstances, I had no future in BJP and asked me to leave and party and (specifically) join the NCP,” Khadse said amidst applause.
He claimed that he was instrumental in ensuring the victory of 17 MPs from north Maharashtra and surroundings for so many years, but darkly threatened to now reveal “who has grabbed how much land” and other scams.
“Just as I worked hard for the BJP, I will work double-hard for the NCP. I have not made any demands, but only wish to work for the people of the state. 100 percent of Jalgaon is with me. I will show my real strength at a rally there after the pandemic restrictions are lifted,” Khadse promised.
Spiking all speculation in this regard, Pawar said that “there will be no changes in the state cabinet or portfolios”, “nobody is unhappy” and all will get an opportunity to serve the state, adding “Khadse is a man who always keeps his word.”
Launching his political career over four decades in Jalgaon, Khadse was voted as a Sarpanch of Kothali village in 1987, and later elected six times as legislator from his home town Muktainagar (1989 till 2019), till last year when he was denied a ticket by BJP.
In the Shiv Sena-BJP government (1995-1999), he served as a minister, later as Leader of Opposition but was subsequently bypassed for the coveted post of CM when the BJP-Shiv Sena regime took office in 2014, shocking many in political circles.
However, Khadse functioned as the de facto No 2 under Chief Minister Fadnavis, till he was ejected from the cabinet in June 2016 after certain allegations of corruption and other charges.
Nursing his grouses and bruised ego, he remained in the political wilderness for four years, occasionally flirting with various parties, but kept spurning their overtures and offers till he finally took the plunge on October 21 by quitting the BJP and entering the NCP.