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Fadnavis still wields clout in Maharashtra bureaucracy & is using it to corner Uddhav govt

Over the past few days, former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has managed to push the Thackeray govt into a situation where it is pitted against its own officials.

File photo of Devendra Fadnavis | ThePrint
File photo of Devendra Fadnavis | ThePrint

Mumbai: On Thursday, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis stepped onto a cricket pitch in his politician avatar, wearing a brown sleeveless jacket on a white kurta, at a local tournament organised by a party legislator in the Maharashtra capital.

He held the bat and played a shot, after which he made a snippy cricket analogy about his recent attacks on the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

“I have decided. I am going to do pace bowling, I am also going to throw a googly and when I come to bat, I am going to bat shots. And in the current situation, the number of loose balls I am getting, I am compelled to send them beyond the fielding line,” Fadnavis told the reporters gathered.

The former CM has been rather upbeat over the past few days, managing to push the Thackeray government in a situation where it is pitted against its own officials, showing the influence he still wields in the civil services despite sitting in the opposition.

Fadnavis has been accessing key documents from the administration and using them as tools before the media or in the legislature to target the three-party MVA, comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.

“The BJP has been using bureaucrats to try and destabilise the government. Our phones were illegally tapped. We will look into all such bureaucrats who were doing things illegally,” NCP Minister Nawab Malik said.

In response, BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said, “Rather than inquire into the grave allegations made against the government and its ministers, this government seems more concerned about how the information got out in the first place.”


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Key documents, official meetings

The latest to rock the Uddhav Thackeray-led government were call data records, allegedly implicating Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze in connection with planting explosives outside Mukesh Ambani’s house, followed by a “confidential” report by IPS officer Rashmi Shukla on corruption in IPS postings and transfers.

Addressing a press conference Tuesday, the former CM also claimed to have 6.3 GB of call data records that the then Commissioner of Intelligence Shukla had intercepted. The same evening, Fadnavis went to Delhi, met the Union home secretary and submitted the data he claims to have.

The state government has slammed the Shukla report and initiated an internal probe through the chief secretary into the IPS officer for allegedly having tapped phones of officers and politicians without permission.

Members of the ruling NCP have also alleged that Shukla was close to the BJP and worked in favour of the party.

Earlier, when the conflict between the BJP and the MVA government over the latter’s decision to shift a planned Metro car depot out of the ecologically sensitive Aarey was at its peak, Fadnavis had targeted the decision by leaking an internal MVA report.

The report drafted by a senior civil servant strongly recommended to not relocate the Metro car shed and showed that the Thackeray government had acted against the official’s advice.

In the early months of the state’s battle with the Covid pandemic, Fadnavis was extensively touring Maharashtra, summoning local district collectors and municipal officers for review meetings. He then targeted the MVA government for poor performance using the statistics and information gathered in those visits.

On the back foot, the Thackeray-led government published a four-page government resolution prohibiting department heads, district collectors and municipal commissioners from attending meetings called by leaders of opposition as they don’t have the powers to call for meetings and take briefings.

“The allegations against this government are probably a way of some officers to create a cofferdam for themselves… The bureaucracy is getting a lot of protection from the Centre, so officials are getting bold,” Shiv Sena MLA Bhaskar Jadhav said.

“Fadnavis seems to be a very frustrated politician. But, one should decide to what extent they want to pander to the bureaucracy. Tomorrow, it might boomerang on the politician,” he added.

Jadhav drew a comparison to late BJP leader Gopinath Munde who would fish out one official document after another with flourish on the floor of the assembly, making allegations against the ruling parties. “The papers could be unrelated or even blank, but it was his style. This seems similar,” the MLA said.


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Fadnavis and Maharashtra’s bureaucracy

When he took over as CM in 2014, Fadnavis was extremely distrustful of the state’s civil services, which had just come out of a 15-year Congress-NCP rule. He was also unusually public about it. A year in office, Fadnavis said that the civil services, especially the middle and lower rungs, was not fully cooperating with the new government.

However, over the years, as CM, Fadnavis went on to develop his own team of trusted officials to be his eyes and ears within the government. He placed them in important departments, while he largely concentrated power within the chief minister’s office.

A senior retired IAS officer told ThePrint requesting anonymity, “What has happened in Maharashtra and in the country too over the past few years is that rather than having a neutral bureaucracy we are having a committed bureaucracy to certain parties.”

He said, “There are some bureaucrats who used to stand up and say that a view of a political party or minister does not fit in the broad framework of the constitution and there have been very mature seasoned politicians who have not crossed that ‘lakshman rekha.’ But, now you hardly see that brand of politicians.”

Meanwhile, as Fadnavis uses his ‘deep throats’ within the government to get information and attack the MVA, ruling party members have in hushed tones suggested that sharing internal government information can amount to an offence.

But Fadnavis is unperturbed. Speaking about the Shukla report in particular, Fadnavis Tuesday said, “I don’t care if an FIR is registered against me about this. What I have done is for the benefit of Maharashtra. The government was trying to hide something that is a cognizable offence. I tried to bring it out for the state’s benefit.”

He added, “If that is an offence, I am ready to commit four such offences. I will go to court and prove what I’m saying is right.”


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