From a sarpanch to Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse came a long way. An OBC leader Khadse, who comes from the Leva Patil community in Jalgaon, North Maharashtra, in his early days chose to be an RSS activist and join BJP by choice.
He faced a lot of opposition from the powerful Congress leaders but continued his work to connect with the people and thereby consolidate BJP at the grassroots. He was blessed by a visionary BJP leader Vasantrao Bhagwat and later got tacit support and cooperation from other OBC leader Gopinath Munde and also by late Pramod Mahajan and Nitin Gadkari in his struggle to spread BJP’s wings in the traditional Congress bastion.
Khadse was elected for the first time to the state assembly from Muktainagar constituency in 1990 and won in successive polls till 2014. Undeterred by politically and financially mighty leader Surshdada Jain, who was in Congress later migrated to NCP and now with Shiv Sena, Khadse won by comfortable margin thanks to his hard work for building the party organisation in Jalgaon district and later in the adjoining districts in North Maharashtra.
Despite his maiden victory and entry in the assembly, Khadse went on hogging the headlines for taking on Jain and other powerful Congress leaders. He was lucky that Jain’s rival in the Congress party, Madhukarrao Chaudhari was the assembly speaker who used to give Khadse an opportunity to express their views using multiple legislative tools.
Khadse became the minister when Shiv Sena-BJP came to power during 1995-99 which helped him to tighten his grip over the party and carved out his standing in the party not just as a leader restricted to North Maharashtra but pan Maharashtra. After Sena-BJP failed to retain power in 1999, Khadse along with Munde played a major role in opposition exposing Congress-NCP government.
BJP made Khadse a leader of opposition between 2009 and 2014 when he made several expose and put Congress-NCP government on the defensive. Khadse used to attack with all confidential papers at his disposal leaving limited room for Congress and NCP to deny those charges.
Ahead of 2014 assembly elections, Khadse was given the responsibility by BJP leader to announce its break up with Shiv Sena. Both BJP and Sena fought poll separately and Khadse was painted as villain for severing alliance which was in place from 1989 onwards. BJP during the Modi wave emerged as a single largest party with 123 seats but short of halfway mark in the 288 member state assembly. As Munde was elected to the Lok Sabha and made minister in the union cabinet, Khadse as an OBC was the strong contender for CM’s post. However, Modi used shock therapy announcing Khadse’s junior Dvendra Fadnavis as the CM who ruled the state for five years.
However, to pacify Khadse, Fadnavis made him number two in his cabinet by giving key departments including Revenue. He was made to resign in 2016 in the wake of corruption charges, his alleged telephone conversation with underworld kingpin. That was the turning point in Khadse’s political career as his descent had begun. Fadnavis with his group of confidantes allegedly kept Khadse out in decision making that resulted in widening rift and that made him sulking.
Khadse was denied ticket in 2019 assembly election while his daughter lost from Muktainagar. Thereafter, Khadse stepped up attack against Fadnavis holding him responsible for ruining his career. Efforts by state and central leaders to patch up between Khadse and Fadnavis failed and ultimately the sulking leader, who gave his blood and time for BJP to make it the party of all and not restricted to the party of Brahmins, upper class and traders, decided to resign. Ironically, Khadse, who had levelled a series of corruption charges against NCP, will join the latter to start his new innings.