It is no surprise that new power centres emerge with the changes in political landscape in the country and state.
As the BJP-led governments at the Centre and the state have settled in their offices, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union roads and transport minister Nitin Gadkari have emerged as power centres in Maharashtra.
For more than a decade, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar as well as senior Congress leaders Sushilkumar Shinde (who was chief minister and later Union home minister) and late Vilasrao Deshmukh (chief ministers for two terms of four years each) were seen as power centres in the state.
Sena chief late Bal Thackeray and BJP leader late Pramod Mahajan, too, used to wield power during their time. Things have changed with the changes in the ruling party. Pawar continues to have clout but his party is not in power either in the state or centre.
Fadnavis led the state unit of the BJP to electoral victory and was rewarded with chief ministership. His performance in the past 21 months is not disappointing if not great.
Initially, it was believed that he would get bogged down with the responsibility of the top job in the state and would have to do a tightrope walking, while handling half-a-dozen seniors in his team.
There were also doubts whether he had the ability to handle a mercurial ally like the Shiv Sena. In less than two years, most of these doubts seem to have been put to rest. There doesn’t seem to be a challenge to him from within his cabinet as of now.
The Sena is still unhappy over getting a raw deal, while sharing power with the BJP, but cooperating with him. It is clear that Fadnavis is in charge.
For almost a decade, since he was made the state BJP president in 2004, Gadkari is considered a political heavyweight in Maharashtra.
He is now seen as one of the efficient ministers in the Modi government, who has put in process several ambitious projects. With his influential position at the Centre and proximity to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) top brass he has emerged as a power centre.
His influence was clearly visible on the recent expansion and reshuffle of the state cabinet when his recommendations were accepted by Fadnavis.
While these two are predictable names given the developments in the past two years, the stakes of newly promoted Union minister Prakash Javadekar have surprisingly gone up after Prime Minister Narendra Modi handpicked him to handle the Union human resource development ministry, which is of much significance for the BJP as well as its ideological fountainhead, the RSS.
Javadekar’s rise in the past two years was surprising even for many in the BJP. Handling the media for the BJP in Delhi as national spokesperson before the Lok Sabha elections, he impressed Modi when he skillfully negotiated pre-poll deal with Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) Chandrababu Naidu for alliance ahead of the 2014 polls.
His decisions as environment minister were criticised by several environment activists but got a positive response from the industry. So, when Modi decided to shift Smriti Irani out of human resource development, his name came up as an option. That he is in the good books of the RSS went in his favour. The RSS wants changes in the education policy and Javadekar will be the point-person to complete that task.
The good part is that knowingly or unknowingly the BJP has sought to break the stereotypes as these three leaders have gained significance in the state.
All three of them come from upper castes (Brahmins) and do not represent politically dominant communities or no attempt is made to strike a regional balance.
Fadnavis and Gadkari are from Nagpur (Vidarbha), while Javadekar comes from Pune (western Maharashtra). Ideally, the efficiency and capacity of a person should matter more than caste-region combination.
However, political compulsions often force parties to put forth leadership from the sections that matter electorally. The development has political significance. How long will they continue to wield power depends on several factors, including how they perform in their current positions.