In the past three decades of Mumbai politics, ever since the Shiv Sena grabbed power in the BMC as the messiah of the Marathi manoos, no chief minister directly took on the saffron party and won in the bargain.
On Tuesday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis did just this, something that political veterans, including former Congress chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and more recently Prithviraj Chavan, failed to do.
In an aggressive political campaign, which he helmed single-handedly, Fadnavis not only took on the Thackerays — he called the Sena a ‘party of extortionists’ — but also put up a score to match that of the sons-of-the-soil party. This is the closest any party has come to the Sena’s tally in the BMC since the 1997 polls.
Not just Mumbai, under Fadnavis’ leadership, the BJP has managed to consolidate its wins in the 2014 assembly polls by spreading its footprint across all recently held polls, starting with municipal councils and now followed by big city corporations and district councils that govern rural areas.
In absolute numbers, the BJP upped its overall seat tally in the 10 civic bodies as well as 25 district councils significantly and emerged as the top party in state.
“Despite having no governing experience when he took over as chief minister, Fadnavis has proved he has electoral and organisational acumen. More importantly, because of his clean image and vision for development, he can be projected as the party’s face. In these polls, he and the party also poured in resources with ward-level surveys being undertaken to select candidates in Mumbai,” said a senior BJP leader.
Fadnavis, the BJP’s face for the polls, held 62 rallies in the state, including 11 in Mumbai, in the past 15 days of the campaign. The party poached on winnable candidates, conducted in-depth surveys to gauge the mood of the people, poured money into its advertising and social-media campaigns and at Fadnavis’ insistence, made anti- corruption an important poll plank along with development. He also cleared every single candidate, which the party had put up in these polls.
The party’s victory in Maharashtra just as BJP heads into difficult state assembly battles in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, among others, will help Fadnavis bolster his position in the party and the state policy. He has led the party to victory into what was once seen as a Congress-NCP stronghold.
Within the party, while the CM does not have a team of loyalists backing him, his position as the state’s supreme leader will now be cemented. The win will also help him gain more confidence of the BJP’s top brass. It is clear that unless there is an un expected disruption, Fadnavis will lead his party and call shots in the 2019 Assembly polls.
The victory is also likely to curb Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s rebelliousness with the party unlikely to pull out of the government in the face of such a mandate favouring the BJP. And it keeps nay sayers and opponents like Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) under check for claiming the BJP government has lost confidence of its people.
“You can take it in writing that there is no danger to my government. I will stay for five years,” Fadnavis had told HT in an interview during the campaign. And he had also predicted his party’s results and the numbers in the Mumbai civic polls. As the results came in on Thursday, Fadnavis’ words are now ringing true. It would seem that this self assuredness comes from some astute political arithmetic.
The big challenge for CM will now be to deliver on the high expectations of the citizens.