Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was recently asked on the Zee 24 Taas show whether he considers himself the Narendra Modi of Maharashtra. He replied: “There can be only and one only Narendra Modi in the world. I am satisfied to remain as Devendra Fadnavis of Maharashtra”.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the assembly election campaigns in Maharashtra, both Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have made it clear that Fadnavis will be the chief minister of the state again. There seems to be no alternative to Fadnavis.
His political skill was on display in the manner in which he stitched up the pre-poll alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, and changed the traditional dynamic of the relationship. In the last assembly election, the BJP and the Shiv Sena had fought separately.
Even before the Lok Sabha elections, a bitterness had made its way into the alliance. The Shiv Sena, even though in an alliance, would openly criticise the Modi government. Both parties were claiming that they were well prepared to fight all the 288 assembly seats alone.
But ultimately Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray announced the alliance’s seat-sharing formula. The Shiv Sena had demanded 135 seats, but got only 124. Fadnavis outsmarted Thackeray and still kept him in good humour. When Uddhav Thackeray was asked whether the Sena has finally accepted the BJP as the big brother, he said: “It is not an issue of who is the big brother and who is the small brother. If we have to develop the state, we should not get into what is yours and what is mine”.
A confident CM
Fadnavis, 49, is the second Brahmin chief minister of Maharashtra. Fadnavis is also the second CM of Maharashtra who has completed the full five years’ term. Vasantrao Naik of Congress was the other. BJP’s central leadership has given Fadnavis a lot of freedom. And he looks set to return – because of the Modi wave, his track record in Maharashtra and a scattered and weakened opposition. Many are saying that there is really no surprise about the Maharashtra election outcome this time.
Now, Fadnavis is confidently saying that his party is ready for a wrestling match, but there is no pahalwan in the ring.
A Maratha Raj
The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and their allies are jointly fighting the elections against the Mahayuti. But they have not announced their CM candidate yet. The Congress’ two former CMs – Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan – are also contesting this election. Sharad Pawar, 79, now beleaguered by ED notices, is campaigning for the Congress– NCP alliance. He has been getting a good response, but he is not the CM candidate either.
Many Congress and NCP leaders are deserting their own parties to join the BJP or the Shiv Sena. Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who was the opposition leader in Maharashtra assembly, joined the BJP and now is a minister in the state cabinet. His son Sujay is now a BJP MP. Leaders like Madhukar Pichad and his son Vaibhav, Ganesh Naik and his son Sanjeev, Vijaysinh Mohite Patil and his son Ranjitsinh have all joined the BJP.
Fadnavis successfully and cleverly poached leaders from the co-operative sector. The Congress and the NCP have a very strong base in the co-operative sector. The Maratha and the OBC community make up 80 per cent of Maharashtra’s population. (Badalta Maharashtra, a Marathi book edited by Bhaskar Laksman Bhole and Kishor Bedkihal).
Y.B. Chavan, who was the first CM of Maharashtra, always claimed that a Congress government meant a ruling of the ‘bahujan samaj’ i.e. the bahujans here mean the Marathas.
Marathas supporting a Brahmin
There was a grand agitation by the politically powerful Marathas for job reservation in the state in 2018. For a brief time, it appeared to rattle the non-Maratha Fadnavis. But quickly taking note of the lacunae in the actions of the erstwhile Congress-NCP government as well as his own government in 2015, Fadnavis managed to set aside a quota for the Marathas without tweaking the existing OBC quota composition.
Marathas have stood behind the Congress-NCP for long; but now they have started shifting towards the BJP-Shiv Sena led by Brahmin Fadnavis. He also tactfully attracted and included two descendants of the great Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj into the BJP. One is former NCP MP Udayanraje Bhosale and another is former NCP MLA Shivendra Raje Bhosale. These descendants have a strong following in the Maratha community.
A few years ago, Sharad Pawar called Fadnavis a Peshwa, hinting at his Brahmin lineage. But now Brahmin Peshwas and the Maratha kings are happily living together in the BJP, something Pawar hadn’t anticipated.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 23 seats out of 25 it contested in Maharashtra. That year, Fadnavis wasn’t the BJP face in the state, but he was chosen as the chief minister by Modi. Now, he has proved himself capable to be CM again, in his own right.
In municipal elections earlier this year, rural elections, civic and zilla parishad elections, Fadnavis has made the BJP stronger and stronger.
He has clipped the wings of Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde, his competitors in the BJP by refusing them CM candidature. Although there were allegations against some ministers from his government, Fadnavis has kept his own ‘Mr Clean’ image intact. He is tech-savvy and the media has a soft corner for him. Will he become a Maharashtra Kesari (lion and winner in a match) in the coming elections? Will he join the list of successful comeback BJP chief ministers that the RSS grooms as future leaders?
The author is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.