Three months into the BJP-Shiv Sena’s ascension to power in Maharashtra, a political analyst called me to express his dismay at the directionless manner in which the state was going. I thought it was too early to be critical of the government, but he said: “It may not be apparent now but wait for about a year. Maharashtra is headed for a mess and it will take a long time to bring it back on track again.”
I was hit by a sense of deja vu: his comment reminded me of the first time (1995) just before Sena came to power and then deputy chief minister Ramrao Adik had pleaded to chief minister Sharad Pawar not to allow the saffron parties, who were in a minority, to seize power. “It will take us 15 years or more to clean up the mess,” Adik, who had been a Sainik before he was a Congressman, told Pawar. But Pawar, who was confident that he would be able to control the government with the help of 45 Congress rebels whom he had pushed to support the Sena-BJP, refused to listen to Adik.
Pawar obviously believed he could do the same this time round but then things are clearly different. I never believed in Narendra Modi’s hype about Gujarat but I thought his experience as chief minister for 13 years would help Devendra Fadnavis to run Maharashtra and that Fadnavis’ native intelligence would do the rest. But I am sorely disappointed.
Before I go any further, I must make a disclosure here: Fadnavis is from Nagpur, my home town, and I know many of his friends, colleagues, teachers and the like. So I was loathe to be critical of him. But I must now reluctantly admit that my analyst friend was right when he described Maharashtra as ‘leaderless and rudderless’.
I could put that down to Fadnavis’ relative youth and inexperience — but then I begin to think of Pawar, who, at 38, was half a dozen years younger than Fadnavis was when he took over as CM. Pawar was adept at his job, and nothing should stop Fadnavis from doing a good job either. But then, I guess, Pawar was not shackled in the manner in which Fadnavis seems to be by his right-wing ideology, a cabinet that does not co-operate and is working overtime to bring him down, a bureaucracy that is taking him for a ride (look at the messy handling of a police commissioner’s transfer), the complete absence of new ideas and policies and by incompetent advisers who are not able to overcome all these drawbacks.
As he completes one year in office this week, I am sure Fadnavis realises that he has a difficult job at hand and that neither the Sena nor the NCP is keen to help him succeed -- and that goodwill cannot be extracted or bought at any price. He must refrain from compounding this situation by entangling himself in silly statements like threatening to throw his rivals off a cliff (as he did during the Maharashtra Bhushan award to Babasaheb Purandare) or allowing the Sena to mess up his turf as it did at least thrice this month over three Pakistani visitors (Ghulam Ali, Khurshid Kasuri, Shahryar Khan), for, after all, they all had valid visas to enter India and the Sena action, focused entirely on the 2017 municipal polls, could similarly mar Modi’s visit to Pakistan next year.
Fadnavis should know that Maharashtra has a rich history of setting the agenda for the country — be it during the 17th-18th century Shiv Shahi (Maratha) or 19th century Peshwai (Brahmin) rules or even during the 20th century freedom struggle, the state’s leaders have been path breakers and trend setters. Even the MGNAREGA scheme originated in Maharashtra in the 1970s.
Sadly, today, the state is rudderless and it is unfortunate that only an anti-beef campaign distinguishes Maharashtra in this regard in the 21st century.