Devendra Fadnavis to be Maharashtra CM

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Oct 29, 2014 12:12 IST

Devendra Fadnavis will be the new chief minister of Maharashtra after he was elected the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s legislature party on Tuesday, as the party continued talks with former ally Shiv Sena on whether to form a government together.

Fadnavis is the first BJP chief minister of the state and will head a minority government if the party fails to strike a deal with the Sena.

He will be sworn in along with seven ministers on Friday at Wankhede Stadium.

At 44, Fadnavis will be the second youngest Maharashtra chief minister - next only to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, who was sworn in when he was 37 years old. Fadnavis will also be the first BJP CM in the politically crucial state.

Speaking in Marathi and Hindi as supporters went wild celebrating his elevation, Fadnavis credited the BJP's performance in the assembly polls to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and other colleagues.

"It will be a government of people… We will follow the path shown by Modiji," Fadnavis said after his selection.

"I thank the party for picking me, though there were other eligible people," he added.

Complications had cropped up after nearly 40 BJP legislators from the Vidarbha region - where the party won 44 seats in the assembly elections - openly backed Union minister Nitin Gadkari for the top job. Three MLAs even offered to quit in order to pave the way for Gadkari to get elected.

Amid the confusion, Gadkari met Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on Saturday. There were indications the BJP's parent body had endorsed Fadnavis as CM.

According to RSS insiders, Bhagwat wanted Gadkari to remain at the Centre, and Fadnavis to take the reins of the state. The RSS chief is believed to have advised Fadnavis to take major decisions after consulting Gadkari.

Fadnavis, whom Modi had described as "Nagpur's gift to the country" at an election rally, had headed the BJP in the state when it posted most impressive performances in both Lok Sabha and assembly polls.

Known to be a meticulous politician with a clean image, he has his roots in the RSS. The BJP CM-designate tore into the former Congress-NCP government during the election campaign, making the issue of corruption both a poll plank and an election promise.

An articulate politician, he is also credited with pushing the previous government into a corner over the alleged irrigation scam, which many say is primarily responsible for a spate of suicide by farmers in the parched Vidarbha region.

In a state dominated by Maratha politics and politicians, Fadnavis is also the only the second Brahmin to become the chief minister — after BJP's estranged ally Shiv Sena's Manohar Joshi .

Unlike some of those whose names were doing the rounds for chief ministership, Fadnavis has never held any ministerial position. Fadnavis’ detractors had highlighted his lack of administrative experience to edge him out of the race.

However, his clean public image and solid backing from the Modi-Shah combine helped the young leader from Nagpur emerge as the winner.

According to reports, just seven BJP ministers will take oath on Friday in an event attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

To ally or not to ally

There is still no clarity, however, on whether the BJP will join hands with the Shiv Sena to form the government.

"BJP wants to take Sena along," JP Nadda, party-in-charge of Maharashtra, said on Tuesday.

The Sena has reached out to the BJP, striking a reconciliatory note in its bid to join the ministry that will take charge on Friday.

The BJP, which has 122 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, needs 23 more legislators to reach the magic figure. Speculations are rife over whether they would join hands with the Sena, which has 63 MLAs.

One BJP legislator, Govind Rathod (elected from Nanded district), died of a heart attack on Sunday night. With the support of small parties and independents, the BJP's tally is around 135.

At present, the BJP, which is busy finalising its team of ministers, is not willing to concede the Sena's demands for key portfolios and an assurance that Vidarbha will not get statehood.

The BJP told the Sena on Sunday to drop all conditions and demands if it wished to participate in the government.

The 25-year-old alliance between the BJP and the Sena fell apart ahead of the elections following a dispute over the sharing of seats.

That the Sena was softening its stand was clear when its mouthpiece, Saamna, said on Monday the party would support a BJP-led government as the party had got a mandate.

"We will have to keep our political differences aside and work with the BJP chief minister for the unity of Maharashtra. We have kept ourselves together even in difficult circumstances and it will be better if it remains so," said the editorial in Saamna, which is regarded as the view of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

The NCP weakened the Sena's case further when Pawar said in an interview that his party would abstain from a trust vote, if there was one.

The NCP, which has 41 MLAs, has already extended support from outside to the BJP, which is still undecided on accepting it.

Meanwhile, some reports also said the BJP was prepared to run a minority government.

(With agency inputs)

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