When the dust settled on the contrived ‘election’ of Devendra Fadnavis, I asked a senior BJP leader about Fadnavis’ strengths. The leader paused for a bit and trotted out the usual ones: He is untainted, non-controversial, studious, modest and groomed by the RSS. Then he added the most important one:
“Devendra was handpicked for the job. That’s his biggest asset”. Fadnavis was chosen by the PM and the BJP president and the BJP’s MLAs only went through the motion of ‘electing’ him. Thanks to such solid support, the chief minister will enjoy the unstinted support of his partymen. And, he will probably be an obedient implementer of the plans and policies that are firmed up outside the Mantralaya.
Just as the assembly election in Maharashtra was a contest between Narendra Modi and the leaders of other parties, the government will now have a stamp of the PM too. Nitin Gadkari and Eknath Khadse, the two other frontrunners for the CM’s seat, are way too senior and politically well-established to follow such diktats. The BJP cannot afford to have a parallel power centre in Mumbai.
A less-discussed aspect of the Gujarat model is the centralisation of executive power and authority.
Fadnavis will now enable his bosses to scale up this model of Centre-state relations in an important state like Maharashtra. Gadkari, Khadse and many others would not have done so. In any case, there isn’t any space for another Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the BJP anymore.
In fact, in trying to create a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, the BJP bosses have perpetuated one of the most repulsive features of that party: Assigning or deciding CMs from the Centre to discourage the emergence of strong regional satraps. Obedience is a virtue greatly respected in the Sangh parivar.
However, Fadnavis may not have it easy. First, he has to manage a minority government that calls for deft political management of allies. Second, several of his cabinet colleagues are senior to him not only in age but also in their political experience. Third, he will have to contend with those who openly declared their candidature for the top job and were forced to retreat.
There are two other challenges which could turn out to be his Achilles heel: One, his perceived proximity to the Nagpur-based Sancheti family. Fadnavis, who was commended for pursuing the multi-crore irrigation scam, which managed to ensnare some NCP leaders, did not mention the Sancheti link in his submission to the Madhav Chitale committee that probed the scam. Fadnavis is yet to be questioned on this important omission. The Adarsh Society scam too has a Sancheti link. How will Fadnavis then lead the charge against corruption?
Two, he will be walking the knife’s edge on the issue of the division of Maharashtra. He has been fiercely rooting for a separate Vidarbha. But the PM, during the pre-poll rallies, assured voters the opposite. The two views are bound to clash at some point during Fadnavis’ tenure. “Chalte vhaa (get lost)” is what the usually unflappable Fadnavis had told his MLA colleagues when they opposed him on the creation of a separate Vidarbha. Will Fadnavis now bow down in front of his bosses on this issue? Exciting times lie ahead.