Like Arnie, Fadnavis said 'I'll be back'. He makes good on his promise
Fadnavis, BJP’s rising star since 2014 when he became only the second Brahmin CM in the state after Manohar Joshi and it’s second youngest CM after Sharad Pawar, took his 2019 defeat as a personal affront
Mumbai: Rather like Arnie, Devendra Fadnavis had told his followers after his ignominious exit in 2019: “Me Parat Yaenar” (I’ll be back). Uddhav Thackeray’s resignation as Maharashtra chief minister on Wednesday was the culmination of Fadnavis’s campaign against the MVA government effected with Terminator-like precision.
Fadnavis, who turns 52 this July, is all set to return as Maharashtra’s chief minister for the third time this week. Though he had adopted the thousand nicks and cuts strategy right from the start of Uddhav Thackeray’s 31-month government, this last operation was put in place a few months when Eknath Shinde made two mysterious trip to Surat several weeks apart, says a source close to the developments. If the government had paid attention they would have known that Shinde’s mobile was untraceable on both these days, the source adds.
Fadnavis, BJP’s rising star since 2014 when he became only the second Brahmin CM in the state after Manohar Joshi and it’s second youngest CM after Sharad Pawar, took his 2019 defeat as a personal affront. His unseemly haste in forming the half baked 80-hour government with Ajit Pawar took the sheen off his rise. “There wasn’t a time when he was in opposition when some campaign or the other wasn’t brewing to topple the MVA government. Each time our top leadership would give us a new muhurat, but first Covid struck and then Thackeray’s illness which necessitated his absence for nearly three months, that delayed our plans,” says a BJP leader privy to the thinking in the party leadership. He also says that it was Fadnavis who identified Eknath Shinde as the ‘potential bait’ to effect the vertical split in Sena after it became evident that it would be difficult to break NCP or lure suffiecient number of Congree MLAs. In the last nine days, Fadnavis made three known trips to Delhi, keeping the central leadership appraised of every step of the operation. Sources say he personally looked into the logistics involving the moving of Sena MLAs to Surat immediately after the MLC elections on June 20th and then their move to Guwahati, as also ensuring the safe passage of other MLAs who joined the rebel camp subsequently. “The message that was given to the Sena rebels was that the operation had the blessing and support of the BJP’s central leadership and that it wasn’t a locally-organised one,” says the source, adding that once the rebels had moved to Guwahati, Fadnavis held several rounds of consultations with lawyers on the possible legal scenarios.
Fadnavis also had to claw his way back into the central leadership’s favour and he proved his political chops when he ensured the BJP returned to power in Goa in the face of massive anti-incumbency.
The first indication Fadnavis had that his chipping away in Maharashtra was successful in the Rajya Sabha elections. He and his team of aides including former minister Girish Mahajan, Opposition leader in the legislative council Pravin Darekar, party leader Prasad Lad, and political strategist Ashish Kulkarni, ensured the BJP won a crucial additional seat. This was immediately followed by wins in the MLC elections where he successfully got 22 MVA MLAs and independents to side with their candidates. “Now, once again his political stock is soaring. There is no looking back for him from here,” said the leader.
At his bungalow in Malabar Hill, the long line of aspirants on Wednesday was indicative of that. Besides the ministerial berths, party colleagues are jockeying for legislative council seats and the appointments to the statutory boards and corporations. “There are leaders like Harshwardhan Patil, Chitra Wagh, Sadabhau Khot who had joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 or during the BJP rule in the state who have long been waiting for their share of power,” said the source. “Though entry to Fadnavis’s bungalow was restricted and only the MLAs and key leaders were allowed on Wednesday, more than 200 leaders met him,” said another leader.
“His control on the BJP in Maharashtra is now complete. He doesn’t easily trust people and keeps a close eye on any potential rival who wants to get close central leadership,” said the BJP leader quoted above. This is a lesson his one- time friend and ally Uddhav Thackeray could do well to imbibe.