Amidst speculation about potential changes in leadership following the inclusion of the Ajit Pawar-led NCP faction in the Maharashtra government, BJP leaders have reportedly stated that there are currently no plans to replace Eknath Shinde as Chief Minister.
The party intends to contest the upcoming elections with the existing leadership trio.
Indian Express quoted a top source in BJP as saying that the party aims to weaken the MVA alliance (comprised of NCP, Congress, and Shiv Sena) by relying on the combined strength of Eknath Shinde, Devendra Fadnavis, and Ajit Pawar.
The party views this trio as a formidable force and plan to contest both the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in 2024 under their leadership. This comes as Ajit Pawar's recent statement expressing his desire to become chief minister in the future has caused a stir in political circles. When asked about this comment, the source reportedly said, “What else could he have said when asked whether he wants to be CM".
However, Pawar's remark has made the Shinde camp nervous, especially as they await the verdict on the disqualification complaint against their MLAs.
It has also sparked speculation within a section of the BJP, which has been uncomfortable with Shinde being offered the chief minister post despite leading a smaller group of MLAs.
Additionally, pressure from the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has led to impatience among the MLAs and MPs who switched to the Shinde camp, as they await ministerial positions at the Centre. The BJP has been searching for a strong leader from the Maratha community to represent their party, but so far, they have not been successful. Ajit Pawar is seen as a potential Maratha face for the BJP, as they have not been able to find a suitable leader from the community within their ranks. Despite their hopes for Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil to fill this role when he joined the party from the Congress in 2019, sources within the BJP have stated that he did not meet their expectations. There have been complaints from party leaders that Patil was more focused on gaining control of the Maratha lobby than working in the best interests of the BJP. When Eknath Shinde joined forces with the BJP, the party had hoped that he would be able to attract Maratha votes away from the Shiv Sena and the NCP.
Some leaders within the BJP believe that Ajit Pawar would be a more popular and appealing figure among voters than Shinde.
They argue that Pawar is more widely accepted within the BJP than Shinde, as many party workers and supporters view him favorably.
However, BJP leaders at the national level have pointed out that they cannot simply abandon Shinde, as he brought 40 MLAs to the NDA after breaking the Shiv Sena. While Shinde was brought into the BJP under the direct supervision of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis played a key role in bringing in Ajit Pawar and his MLAs. According to the IE report, some leaders argue that sidelining Shinde at this point would not send a positive message about the BJP, especially as they are preparing for important Lok Sabha elections and trying to expand the NDA with more alliance partners.
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