Eknath Khadse

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A profile

The Times of India, June 5, 2016

Makarand Gadgil

The irony must not have been lost on former state revenue minister Eknath Khadse, as the corruption charges that he often wielded as a weapon as the leader of the opposition against the Congress-NCP politicians, claimed his political career too. Khadse, who is a chain-smoker, is a gifted speaker and used to often launch into powerful monologues in the Assembly while taking on the former Congress NCP government over corruption charges regarding issues like the irrigation scam and the Maharashtra Sadan scam, among others. But his eloquence was of little help during his hour of need. Nothing could convince his party high command about his 'innocence'. Love for good ol' bolly Khadse, who is extremely fond of Bollywood movies and songs, loved to sing during private gatherings and used his acting skills to a hilt while making eloquent speeches in the Assembly to win over all and sundry for his causes. In fact, he is so fond of Bollywood movies and stars, that despite facing heat over the recent corruption allegations, he did no forget to pay tribute to Raj Kapoor on Twitter on the yester year star's 28th death anniversary on June 2.

Fledgling days

In the mid-seventies, Ashok Phadke spotted this young, talented and ambitious youngster called Eknath Khadse. Phadke can be credited for catapulting Khadse to fame as a champion of Hindutva, despite the youngster coming from a family of Congress supporters.

Initiation into political corridors

Khadse, who helped build the party from scratch in Northern Maharashtra, started his life as an active politician as a BJP worker in the early '80s. During election times, he would often travel to various villages, either on a cycle or a motorcycle, announcing his own rally in the village later that evening.

In 1987, he became the sarpanch of his village Kothali in the Muktainagar tehsil and got elected to the Assembly for the first time in 1990 from what was then known as the Edlabad constitution. Edlabad was rechristened Muktainagar during the 2009 delimitation exercise. Since then, Khadse has never looked back.

During the Ram Temple movement of the early 1990s, Khadse, who led the karsevaks, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police in Jhansi, and had to spend around a month behind bars. Khadse, who was known to be a loyalist of former BJP leader Gopinath Munde, shot to fame in the state when he was first appointed finance minister, and later the irrigation minister in the first ever Sena-BJP government between 1995-1999.

Tryst with power

Known as an efficient minister, he brought about the innovative approach of raising bonds from the market for the completion of long-pending irrigation work and the creation of the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC) to finish irrigation projects in the Krishna valley.

However, the charge of the irrigation portfolio gave him a hang of the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus in the sector. Being a man with his kind of political talent, Khadse took little time to understand the integrity of this lucrative industry, and occasionally exploited it. However, he was not the only one in the state cabinet who took advantage of this nexus. After returning to the Opposition benches in 1999, he continued to be a loyal deputy of Munde until 2009 when the latter migrated to national politics.

Khase utilised the time between 1999 and 2009 wisely to become the strongest leader from Jalgaon district in particular, and Northern Maharashtra in general, by first establishing BJP's control over the zilla parishad, then the district cooperative bank and then finally taking control of Jalgaon Municipal Corporation after a bitter battle with local strong man and Shiv Sena leader Suresh Dada Jain. But popular belief still remains that Khadse's tenure as Opposition leader, which helped the BJP win the 2014 Assembly elections, was his biggest claim to political glory.

Not good enough to become CM

Poised to become the Chief Minister of the state after BJP's successful bid in the 2014 elections, Khadse was bitterly let down by his party when the much younger and junior Devendra Fadnavis was handpicked for the post by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If whispers in the political corridors were to be believed, the 63-yearold Khadse's kidney transplant surgery ensured the above decision by the party. BJP, riding high on the mandate of the people, was focused on tapping the youth and was looking forward by at least 10-15 years. So it is safe to say that it did not take much for the party to overlook an ailing Khadse's bid.

Penchant for nepotism

Khadse's tendency to forward the interests of his kin did not go down well with the rank and file of the party. Many members harboured resentment over how he promoted his family members to important posts in Jalgaon. His daughter-in-law Raksha is an MP from Jalgaon, while his daughter Rohini Khewalkar was made director of the district cooperative bank and wife Mandakini became the director of Mahanand, the state milk cooperative federation.

Khadse got involved in controversies even before the latest charges of corruption and bribery surfaced. He first courted controversy when he advised farmers to pay their electricity bills instead of splurging money on cellphones. The recent wastage of 10,000 litres of water for the creation of a temporary helipad for his tour of droughthit Latur also put him under the media scanner. Many still believe that if Khadse had just concentrated on fighting a legal battle against the charges, he would have had a real shot at redemption. However, Khadse was never a man to sit quiet. He tried to clear his name himself, making his mess messier. Keeping the polls in mind, the BJP was quick to switch to damage-control mode, which drove the final nail in Khadse's political coffin.

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