Mumbai: Quitting the Bharatiya Janata Party, after remaining in political wilderness for over four years, senior leader Eknath Khadse on Wednesday said he was "leaving only because of Devendra Fadnavis".
Set to join the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi partner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Friday, Khadse said that he was targeted by the then Chief Minister and current Leader of Opposition Fadnavis on trumped up charges which have still not been proven.
"My family and I have been humiliated for four years... I had worked hard to build up the party in the state for 40 years and this is what I had to undergo," Khadse told mediapersons shortly after resigning as a BJP primary member.
Making it clear that he had no grouse against the BJP central leadership, Khadse said that "except state President Chandrakant Patil, no BJP leader has called me up so far".
Forced to quit as minister in June 2016 following corruption charges when he was the de facto No. 2 in the cabinet headed by Fadnavis, he was denied a BJP ticket in the 2019 Assembly elections.
Khadse pointed out that since then (his quitting), "no party, including Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party or Congress has ever demanded any investigations against me", despite that he was humiliated for several years in the BJP.
"So many agencies probed me, but nothing came out... Then one lady levelled some molestation charges against me to which Fadnavis asked that a FIR should be lodged against me... This was the low-level politics played against me," Khadse said.
Among the tallest BJP leaders in the state with huge grassroots support, Khadse, 68, hails from Muktainagar, Jalgaon, and his daughter-in-law Raksha Nikhil Khadse has been elected twice as BJP Lok Sabha MP (2014-2019) from Raver parliamentary seat.
Reputed as an efficient administrator and orator, Khadse was groomed by the late Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, and is now expected to deflect the Opposition Fadnavis-led BJP's attacks on the MVA government headed by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Having once tutored Fadnavis in legislative politics, Khadse was ironically bypassed by the central leadership when the party swept the 2014 legislative elections and chose Fadnavis to lead the government.
Since then, they enjoyed an uneasy relationship which ultimately led to Fadnavis asking Khadse - who represented the Muktainagar assembly seat from 1989 till 2019 - to quit the cabinet in 2016.
State NCP President and Minister Jayant Patil announced that Khadse would join the party on Friday afternoon, and along with him many other BJP activists and legislators are likely to follow suit in the coming days.
Welcoming the development, Shiv Sena leader Kishore Tiwari said: "Khadse is a very popular mass-based OBC leader and his departure will prove costly for the BJP and Fadnavis."
"He is among the few leaders who served as a minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government of 1995-1999, as Leader of Opposition from 2009-2014, and again as minister when the BJP-Sena regime took over in 2014, till his exit from the cabinet in mid-2016," Tiwari pointed out.
Hoping to mollify him after denying a poll ticket, in 2019, the BJP fielded his daughter Rohini Khadse-Khevalkar, but she lost the polls, after which his (Khadse's) supporters charged Fadnavis with engineering her debacle.