Will Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis meet the same fate like his Gujarat counterpart Anandiben Patel?
As the BJP-led government completes two years next month, Fadnavis is facing one of his biggest challenges so far in the form of the silent Maratha uprising in Maharashtra similar to the Patel agitation in Gujarat (minus the violence) that ultimately cost Anandiben her job.
Last week, as the Maratha silent rallies touched 20 districts — more than a third of the state districts — rumours were triggered about Fadnavis’ ouster in favour of a state minister, a Maratha, like the Public Works Minister Chandrakant Patil, considered to be close to BJP president Amit Shah.
The rumours are unfounded, at least at this stage.
Patil, the CM-candidate, himself was asked to refute this as speculation on Monday.
But it’s clear Fadnavis is rattled, perhaps to the glee of some of his own ministers. That’s why he chose to voice this speculation himself at a rally in Navi Mumbai recently saying he didn’t really care how long he would stay in the top job as long as he worked every single day to bring transformation to the state.
The reason for Fadnavis’ worries are manifold, but chief among them is that as a Brahmin chief minister, he has no real community constituency and is faced with the angst of a dominant community that makes up 32% of the state’s population.
What makes the problems worse is that there is no way to really meet the two central demands made by the community. The demand for special reservation for Marathas in jobs and education has been refuted once by the Backward Class commission and stayed by the Bombay high court. Both had opined that the community is neither socially nor economically backward. More importantly, giving separate reservation to Marathas will take the overall reservation in the state to nearly 74%, against the Supreme Court ruling. Giving the community reservation within the existing OBC block, will alienate this group that has been carefully wooed by BJP through late leaders Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde.
The second demand to review the Atrocity Act will also draw fire with Dalits, who already have many reasons to be unhappy with the BJP and are poised to start their own protests.
Fadnavis has repeatedly made overtures for holding negotiations with the protesters, but Maharashtra does not have its own Hardik Patel.
As one of the Maratha protest leaders told HT, “There is nothing to discuss and our protests don’t have leaders. The CM knows our demands and he should just declare they will be met.’’
“For the CM it’s a catch-22 situation. And even though these are faceless protests, they are backed, supported and funded by Maratha politicians from the Congress and NCP, who are feeling threatened about losing their hold on power structures. This Maratha protest juggernaut will roll until it culminates in the Maha Mumbai rally, but no one, including its strategists, will know what to do next,’’ said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
The common Maratha, who has been motivated to take to the streets, is likely to get even more disillusioned when at the end of these rallies, there are no straight answers to their demands, said Jondhale.
How this anger will get played out in the local self-government elections is anyone’s guess, but the BJP government is likely to feel its blaze. Fadnavis, who attended the BJP national meet in Kozikode in Kerala has been briefed not to take the protests lightly.
A clear reading in the BJP is that it can no longer expect a re-run of the 2014 elections magic when Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi found favour across communities and as such caste dynamics cannot be ignored. If the BJP does badly in the local elections — dubbed the mini state assembly polls — the referendum is on Fadnavis. And then despite having no real replacement candidate in the state, the BJP top brass may have little choice but to make a change.