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How Devendra Fadnavis put inglorious 2019 exit behind him, made good on ‘Me punha yein’ promise

31 months after the BJP leader resigned as CM ahead of a floor test, paving way for Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA to form govt, life has come full circle for Fadnavis with Thackeray's resignation.

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Mumbai: In November 2019, a day before a floor test in the Maharashtra assembly, the then chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, resigned from his post realising that he didn’t have the numbers needed for his government to continue. He had lost in the race to power.

Fadnavis’ resignation paved the way for the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) to stake claim on the government, with Shiv Sena President Thackeray in the chief minister’s chair. The MVA is a coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.

Thirty one months later, the same script played out in Maharashtra Wednesday, but with a role reversal of the victor and vanquished. CM Uddhav Thackeray resigned on the eve of a trust vote to prove his government’s majority Thursday, knowing that defeat was inevitable after the worst ever rebellion in the Shiv Sena. Earlier this month, a group of Sena MLAs led by minister Eknath Shinde, broke away from the party and turned against the MVA government, resulting in it losing majority in the assembly.

Thackeray’s resignation has cleared the way for a possible Fadnavis-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) return in Maharashtra.

With that, Fadnavis completed a full circle — from a leader fallen in disgrace after a smug campaign of “Me Punha Yein” (I’ll be back) in the run-up to the 2019 Maharashtra assembly elections, and a desperate 80-hour government, to the man of the moment, at the centrestage of Maharashtra’s politics today.

On Wednesday night, as Thackeray resigned, the BJP had a mini celebration, though on record it has distanced itself from the rebellion within the Shiv Sena, which led to the downfall of the Thackeray-led MVA govenment.

BJP MLA Manisha Chaudhari whipped out a box of pedhas, feeding one to Fadnavis, after which Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil too fed him a sweet, while the party tweeted a collection of Fadnavis’ speeches, in which he says “Me Punha Yein” in vindication.

BJP President Patil tweeted a picture of the victory celebration, saying, “Devendra Fadnavis ji fought against this government that had come to power through an unnatural alliance. Congratulated Devendra ji for getting success.”

Fadnavis himself, however, maintained a cautious stance for the time being, fielding reporters’ questions with “You will know everything by tomorrow”.

Also readNot Shinde vs Uddhav, Shiv Sena has an identity crisis. Choose Hindutva or get a makeover

Fadnavis under the spotlight

Sources in the BJP have told ThePrint on multiple occasions that Fadnavis had lost favour with the party leadership for some time after his failure to form a BJP government in Maharashtra after the 2019 election, despite the party emerging as single-largest in the assembly.

The reason for BJP’s inability to form government at the time was the Shiv Sena walking out of its alliance with the BJP after the election, alleging that the BJP was reneging on its promise of sharing all posts, including the CM’s chair, equally. The Shiv Sena eventually cobbled together an alliance of ideological rivals, Congress and NCP, to keep the BJP out of power.

Fadnavis’ political capital took a further hit after his failed attempt to form a government with the support of a faction of NCP MLAs under Ajit Pawar, and a rushed midnight oath-taking ceremony. The government lasted only for 80 hours as Pawar and others returned to their party camp.

However, the BJP leader has bounced back since then, helming the party’s campaign for major victories in the assembly elections in Bihar and Goa in 2020 and 2022, and most recently the Rajya Sabha and MLC elections in Maharashtra earlier this month, which kicked off the MVA’s turmoil.

According to political observers, Fadnavis has also worked hard to strengthen the party’s base in Maharashtra since the formation of the MVA government, extensively traveling through the state during the two waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, and also taking stock on the ground after floods in different parts of Maharashtra last year.

“The opposition to this government is so strong that you feel the CM’s physical absence. On one side there’s someone (Thackeray) who doesn’t step out of the house (a criticism Thackeray has consistently faced, especially during the pandemic), and on the other side there is the opposition leader (Devendra Fadnavis) who is never home,” political commentator Abhay Deshpande had told ThePrint in February this year.

Fadnavis also kept the MVA government on its toes with scathing criticism of the MVA’s governance, and using his influence within the state’s bureaucracy to target the government with official records on issues such as the Aarey Metro car shed, the Sachin Waze case and an alleged IPS transfers and postings racket.

The various probes by central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax Department and the Central Bureau of Investigation against more than a dozen MVA leaders further boosted Fadnavis’ tireless attacks on the MVA.

“Fadnavis turned out to be a very successful Opposition leader. He constantly had tours, programmes, and kept the MVA government on the back foot with his criticisms. In the entire duration of the MVA government, he was setting the narrative for the political discourse and constantly tried to expose the rifts between the three parties of the MVA,” political analyst Hemant Desai told ThePrint.

Desai added: ”While Thackeray earned goodwill as CM from Maharashtra’s people at large, he had a few shortcomings, such as his (lack of) administrative acumen, inability to take everyone along as a CM. He did not pay as much attention to the party organisation as needed, and his health issues were a major disadvantage for him.”

Fadnavis’ rise within BJP ranks

Fadnavis’ clout within the BJP started surging after 2013, when the party appointed him as the state president at a time when senior leaders such as Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari were trying to push their own candidates. Fadnavis was seen as someone who did not belong to any particular camp.

He gradually became the face of the BJP in Maharashtra, after his appointment as CM in 2014, even though there was a clamour from Gadkari supporters for the leader to take the top post. Fadnavis’ became the choice for the post since the party leadership wanted to avoid creating a parallel powercentre to Modi in Gadkari, said party sources.

Since then, over the last eight years, Fadnavis has tightened his hold over the Maharashtra BJP, distancing old guards such as Vinod Tawde, Eknath Khadse and Pankaja Munde, who could have potentially challenged his position within the party.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: ‘Subah ka bhula…’ — Original Shiv Sena rebel Chhagan Bhujbal has a message for Eknath Shinde


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