Bawankule, who belongs to an Other Backward Classes (OBC) community, replaced Chandrakant Patil, a Maratha who has been inducted in the state cabinet. Shelar, a Maratha by caste and former state minister, replaced Mangal Prabhat Lodha as the Mumbai unit president. His appointment comes ahead of crucial civic polls in India’s financial capital.
Lodha, a non-Marathi, too has become a minister in the state government led by rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde.
Bawankule’s appointment could be seen as an attempt by the BJP to consolidate OBC votes ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections.
Speaking to reporters at Amravati, Bawankule said he would strive to achieve the target of more than 45 seats in the Lok Sabha and 200 out of 288 seats in Assembly polls in 2024.
”I will also strive to make the BJP the number one party in this year’s local body elections,” he added.
Bawankule is considered to be close to senior party leader and Union minister Nitin Gadkari.
He was energy minister in the Devendra Fadnavis-led government between 2014-19, but was denied assembly ticket from his constituency of Kamthi which he had represented thrice.
Recently he was rehabilitated as a Member of Legislative Council (MLC).
Bawankule rose from the grassroots level, starting out as Nagpur district vice president of BJP and organisational secretary of the party in Kamthi and later becoming Nagpur district chief. He was also a Nagpur zilla parishad member before getting elected to the Assembly.
In Mumbai, where elections to the country’s richest civic body are expected to be held soon, Shelar has been once again entrusted the job of heading the party. He was the Mumbai BJP chief twice earlier. Shelar was a vocal critic of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena even when the BJP had an alliance with it.
The BJP is expected to make an all-out effort to dislodge the Thackeray-led Sena from power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) this time. In 2017, when Shelar was the city unit chief, the BJP narrowly missed the chance to oust the Sena from the BMC.
Shelar is a three-time MLA from Bandra West in Mumbai and also the party’s Chief Whip in the Legislative Assembly. He was a Minister of School Education, Sports and Youth Welfare in the earlier BJP-Sena government headed by Devendra Fadnavis.
He was also the president of the Mumbai Cricket Association in the past.
Shelar is known as an organisation man and aggressive leader. He has also put in special efforts to reach out to Muslims and Christians who have a significant presence in his constituency.
He began his political journey as the Mumbai secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing, and later headed city unit of the BJP Yuva Morcha, the party’s youth wing.
He was elected twice as a corporator from Khar West.