Divided BJP strives to put up united show in Maharashtra

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Bharatiya Janata Party may be in a hurry to see Narendra Modi to take over as the next prime minister but it is a divided house in Maharashtra.

Party’s former president Nitin Gadkari and BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde have taken quite contrary stand on a number of issues in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.

BJP, which had won nine seats in 2009 general elections, hopes to improve its tally in the coming elections. However, the party insiders admit that widening gap between the two leaders in particular and their utterances pose serious challenge for state unit to put up a united show.

Gadkari, who resigned as the national party president last year in the wake of income tax searches on the Purti Group founded by him, argued that the NDA’s doors were “open” to NCP chief Sharad Pawar and couple of other party leaders like Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalitha, Navin Patnaik and Chandrababu Naidu.

However, Munde, who is party’s in charge in Maharashtra for Lok Sabha polls, revealed that it was he who opposed Pawar’s entry into the NDA after the latter had desired to do so. Incidentally, Pawar has strongly denied his plans to join NDA.

Gadkari and Munde did not stop here but took quite opposite stand on the politically sensitive issue of toll collection in Maharashtra. Munde announced that BJP with its electoral allies Shiv Sena, Republican Party of India and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana have already announced that Maharashtra will be made toll free after dislodging the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra. Munde blamed NCP in particular for the rampant corruption in the entire toll collection system and the contracts awarded for the same.

However, Gadkari, who takes credit for the construction of Mumbai Pune Express way and 55 flyovers in Mumbai during his tenure as Maharashtra minister for public works during 1995-99, has categorcially ruled out possibility of toll free Maharashtra.

He said the toll was inevitable and if the government wants to do away with it the government will have to bear burden of over Rs. 1,00,000 crore towards compensation to various contractors. He indicated that it was not viable for any government of the day.
State BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari told Business Standard ”It is a wishful thinking. There may be differences but it will not rake our boat.”

Meanwhile, the party is also divided over stake its claim on the south Mumbai Lok Sabha seat which is currently in the BJP’s electoral ally Shiv Sena’s quota. The south Mumbai is represented by Congress leader and the union minister of state for ports Milind Deora.

A section of party is of the view that BJP should nominate party legislator from the Malabar Hill constituency and a leading builder Mangal Prabhat Lodha or his son from the south Mumbai against Deora to exploit anti incumbency.

Party leaders suggest that BJP can allot the North West Lok Sabha seat from its quota to Shiv Sena as it was finding it difficult to select candidates who can defeat the present LS member Priya Dutt who is actor Sanjay Dutt’s sister.