The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) state president Devendra Fadnavis has emerged as the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post if the party comes to power in the assembly elections.
The 44-year-old from Nagpur has received the endorsement of PM Narendra Modi who, while addressing a rally there on Tuesday, called him the “city’s gift to Maharashtra”. Modi even lauded Fadnavis’ performance as a legislator in exposing corruption in the Congress-NCP government.
The soft-spoken, studious Fadnavis, who rose up the ranks and emerged as a frontline leader with his elevation as state BJP president, also has the backing of the BJP’s national president Amit Shah, placing him far ahead of the other contenders for the CM’s post in the BJP.
Both Modi and Shah have been impressed with Fadnavis’ handling of the party campaign during the Lok Sabha elections and after Gopinath Munde’s death.
“Till Munde was alive, we always knew he would be our chief ministerial candidate. But, after his sudden death, Modi and Shah were looking for a credible and young face like Manohar Parrikar in Goa, and they zeroed in on Fadnavis,”said a senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be named. “Fadnavis is non-controversial and also enjoys RSS support. The party leadership is also convinced he won’t have his agenda and won’t make any compromises.”
The development, however, has left other contenders to the CM’s post in the BJP unhappy. Nitin Gadkari, Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde have been so far touted as the aspirants for the post of chief minister.
Although Gadkari is Union transport minister, he would like to return to the state to lead a government, said his close aides. After Munde, he is the only BJP leader from Maharashtra who is known across the state, they added. However, sources in the party said Modi won’t be keen to have Gadkari as CM.
Khadse’s camp has staked claim to the state’s top job, citing his experience as finance minister during the Sena-BJP rule in the state from 1995 to 1999 and as the leader of opposition in the Assembly. His aides said the job of Maharashtra CM would need government-handling experience, which they claimed only Khadse possesses, other than Gadkari.
Tawde, opposition leader in the legislative council, has been also seen as a strong contender for the post. His supporters argued that the party should be picking a Maratha for the top job, as the BJP won’t be able to dominate the state without support of the Maratha community.
However, with Modi and Shah making clear their preference, it is unlikely that other contenders stand a chance, said sources. “Considering Modi’s style of functioning, it is safe to assume that Fadnavis would be the choice for the top job. If there is a hung Assembly and the party leadership thinks it would need a senior person to handle the allies, some other names could be considered,” said a BJP leader.
When asked if Modi had declared Fadnavis as CM candidate, BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said: “It will be the prerogative of the parliamentary board of the party.”