The state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is being revamped under new leadership as Union Minister Raosaheb Danve resigned from his cabinet post to take up organisational responsibility. The post fell vacant when the party’s state president Devendra Fadnavis took over as chief minister of the state after successful campaigning for the party in the Lok Sabha, as well as the state legislative assembly elections. Danve is a low profile leader well-versed in BJP ideology, as well as aware of the socio-political set up in the state.

His job is to revamp and expand the party’s base in the state, which is no mean task, knowing fully well that though the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are down but not out, they have considerable influence among rural and urban voters. If the party fails to deliver on its campaign promises, the climate can change in an instant. Danve, of course, will get timely inputs from Delhi, where again, Amit Shah is the new face of leadership.

His appointment is also seen as a shrewd move on the part of the BJP to pacify and balance out the party’s social fabric, since it has already appointed Fadnavis, a Brahmin, as CM. Now, Danve taking over as party chief will help some disgruntled elements in the party to calm down and cooperate with the power structure in the state.

The  BJP’s appointment of the union minister of state and prominent Maratha leader Raosaheb Patil Danve as the new chief of party’s Maharashtra unit on Tuesday is seen as a balancing act by the party after it chose Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, to head the first BJP-led government in the state. Marathas make up around 30 per cent of the state’s population and dominate the state politically. The BJP can ill-afford to ignore the ruling caste and Danve’s appointment will be seen as a step towards keeping the dominant community on the right side of the party.

 The party is well-entrenched in the Vidarbha region as all the three previous BJP state chiefs were from there – Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, state minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. With Danve taking over the party reins, it will concentrate on the Marathwada region, which is responding well. Danve is playing a crucial role in Marathwada, from where he got elected to the Lok Sabha, while his son Santosh represents the Bhokardan assembly constituency.

Danve, four-time MP and two-time MLA in the state, is aware of intra-party power politics and with his unassuming nature, is equal to the task of handling warring groups.  The main criticism against the BJP has been from the Congress and the NCP on the ground that it is too sophisticated and urban and cannot handle complex, pending rural Maharashtra issues. Danve, who has been active in local self-government bodies in Marathwada and the cooperative movement, will make it a little easier for the party to make a bid to enter the cooperative sector in the state in a systematic manner.

The party has already launched a massive enrolment drive in the state, especially in rural areas, where it has not yet established its presence in the cooperative sector. As compared to the Congress and the NCP, the state BJP has set a more ambitious target. The party is involving all its elected representatives, at all levels and using the social media to its advantage. It already has a considerable urban presence and would like to concentrate more on rural areas, especially the cooperative sector. The Congress and the NCP wield power in the rural parts via the rural economy.

The BJP has lost the Benaras cantonment board, but has successfully secured a majority in Pune cantonment, hitherto under the Congress-NCP control. After capturing power in Delhi, the BJP now wants to control affairs in Mumbai too. While this may appear simple, it may prove very complicated as far as Mumbai is concerned. The party has already launched a campaign for the Delhi assembly polls, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing a rally recently.

Mumbai is the richest municipal corporation in Asia, with a budget equivalent to that of a small state and the BJP would certainly like to have a major say in civic affairs. So far, the Shiv Sena has been ruling the BMC with the help of the BJP. However, having tasted success in the last state legislative assembly elections, the BJP would like to expand its base in the country’s commercial capital as well.

 It will obviously clash with the Shiv Sena once it starts preparing for the BMC elections and demanding an equal number of seats. The BJP has won one seat more than the Sena in Mumbai city and would like to keep up its performance. The first test will be in the Marathwada region as the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation will be the first to go in for elections. Thane, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad , Nasik and Nagpur civic elections are also due in the next two years, testing the political acumen of the CM and Danve.

The Sena is aware of the growing ambitions of the BJP and would like to put in more efforts to retain its stronghold over the functioning of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Both, the Sena, as well as the BJP, want to woo new voters. Will it affect their relationship? The Congress and the NCP, which ruled the state for the last 15 years were both engaged in expanding their own bases separately while ruling the state.  Like them, the Sena, as well as the BJP, would do well to adapt to the changing situation. Both the saffron parties will be at loggerheads over the coming civic polls, but will not push it so far that it will endanger the coalition government in the state. The BJP’s moves are obviously not going down well with its partners, as it will be eating into their vote support.

Prakash Bal Joshi