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Cong veteran in BJP

Nagpur, June 9: Maharashtra Congress veteran Datta Meghe today said he would join the BJP with his two sons, the late-career switch seen as a move to secure the future of his progeny and the family’s chain of educational institutions.

The septuagenarian, a long-time parliamentarian, an MP in the previous Lok Sabha from Wardha and a key player in Vidarbha politics, said he was “distraught by the lack of co-operation” in the Congress for his “development agenda” and felt cornered.

Meghe’s elder son Sagar lost the recent Lok Sabha polls from Wardha to the BJP. Sagar had won the Congress ticket in primaries — a Rahul Gandhi initiative in select constituencies in which nominees were elected by local workers and office bearers.

“I am confident Vidarbha and the state will develop manifold under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Nitin Gadkari. Pro-people decisions will be taken and development will reach the last person…which is why I have decided to work with the BJP,” the 78-year-old Meghe said in a statement.

Meghe counted Gadkari, the former BJP president and Union minister who also hails from the region, as “a personal friend for many years”.

“Gadkari has been my personal friend for many years and I know him as a vikas purush (development pioneer). I am sure I can play a part in developing Vidarbha under his leadership,” said Meghe, who will formally join the BJP on July 5 with his sons.

Meghe had joined the Congress in 1978, left it in 1999 along with former mentor Sharad Pawar in 1999 and rejoined the party in 2008 after Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) denied him Rajya Sabha berth. He won from the Wardha seat on a Congress ticket in 2009. He was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991.

Son Sagar was earlier a BJP member of the legislative council but quit to join the Congress in 2008. Younger sibling Sameer is said to be keen to contest the state polls later this year.

Meghe’s entry could boost the BJP in Wardha and some other parts of Vidarbha given his influence among backward classes.

Congress leaders said the veteran had joined the BJP to keep his chain of educational institutions well oiled. With his schools, engineering, medical and other professional colleges, Meghe is seen as an education baron. “He can’t live away from power,” a state Congress leader close to him said, adding Meghe had decided to join the BJP when Sagar lost the elections last month.

Gadkari had wanted Meghe to join the BJP before the polls and had promised Sagar the ticket from Wardha, according to party insiders. But when the Meghes could not make up their mind, the BJP fielded an old-timer, Ramdas Tadas. Sagar lost to him by 2.5 lakh votes.

Meghe fell out of favour with Pawar after he quit the NCP in 2008. In the Congress, he had often been at odds with the state leadership in recent years, with his detractors suspecting that he hobnobbed with both Pawar and Gadkari.

Today, state Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant termed Meghe’s decision “unfortunate”. “What else could we have done more for him? His son contested on our ticket and lost,” Sawant said.

Meghe’s move prompted the larger question of whether more state Congress leaders with business interests — from co-operative sugar mills and banks to education institutions — could go his way.

Several leaders from the party and ally NCP joined the BJP before the polls. Heena Gavit, the daughter of NCP state minister Vijay Kumar Gavit, joined the BJP and won from Nandurbar. The NCP sacked her father.