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What next for Devendra Fadnavis

Jun 16, 2024 08:24 AM IST

One of the sharp leaders in Maharashtra, has been facing memes in the social media over his journey from ‘I will be back’ to ‘ relive me please ‘ over the last two weeks. Many in state’s political circle think his position as undisputed leader of BJP in Maharashtra for the past 10 years could be questioned

During the electioneering for the 2019 assembly polls, he would proudly and confidently say, Mee Punha Yein (I will be back). He could not get the second term in the office despite winning sizable seats in the state polls and had to accept the post of leader of opposition during the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray. Five years later, in the run up to the 2024-Assembly polls, he has requested his party leadership to relieve him of the responsibility of the deputy chief minister. Devendra Fadnavis, one of the sharp leaders in state, has been facing memes in the social media over his journey from ‘I will be back’ to ‘ relive me please ‘ over the last two weeks.

Days after the Lok Sabha debacle of the party and the ruling alliance on June 4, Fadnavis shocked everybody his party by announcing to resign from the post of deputy chief minister. (Praful Gangurde / HT Photo)

Days after the Lok Sabha debacle of the party and the ruling alliance on June 4, Fadnavis shocked everybody his party by announcing to resign from the post of deputy chief minister. While the ruling Mahayuti could win only 17 seats, the party led by him won just 9 seats by polling 26.18% votes against 2019-LS polls vote share of 27.84%. Many in state’s political circle think Fadnavis’ position as undisputed leader of BJP in Maharashtra for the past ten years could be questioned in the party.

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Soon after the results, Fadnavis announced to bear the responsibility of the Lok Sabha debacle solely and offered to quit as deputy chief minister. His two lieutenants came to his support by suggesting that intervention by the central leadership made them pay price in the Lok Sabha elections. State minister and Fadnavis’ close aide Girish Mahajan said there was need to change some sitting MPs in the Lok Sabha elections but they could not (because of the central leadership’s intervention). In a post on social platfrom X, another close aide of Fadnavis, Mohit Kamboj Bharatiya, cried foul about how the party was made to pay just out of grudges against one person (Fadnavis). According to the party insiders, the post hinted at the cold war between Fadnavis and national general secretary of the party Vinod Tawde. Tawde is believed to have had a say in party affairs in Maharashtra during the polls.

“This shows how Fadnavis’s freedom to take decisions when it comes to Maharashtra politics had dwindled. On the other hand, he has been playing the second fiddle in the government after he was unwillingly made to become the deputy chief minister under the leadership of Eknath Shinde. The CM enjoys the ultimate powers in the government and Shinde has learnt how to utilise it. This has led to clashes between the two many a times over the last two years of the state government under CM Shinde—whether the transfer of the officers or managing law and order especially in Mumbai Metropolitan Region where Shinde insists on having complete control. The secondary role at both levels would not have been easy for the leader who has been the boss for years,” said a senior party leader requesting anonymity.

The leader also added that the central leadership of the party had sent a signal to him by compelling him to accept the post of deputy chief minister against this wish in June 2022. The leadership decided to form the government after the split in the Shiv Sena in the leadership of Shinde and not Fadnavis. When Fadnavis announced to work for the party instead of being part of the government, the central leadership forced him to be sworn as deputy to Shinde. “After that the Shinde moved closer to the central leadership of the BJP resulting in Fadnavis getting little less importance,”” the leader added.

Credit and blame

Is Fadnavis finding himself at the receiving end in the party? To some extent, according to the party insiders. In his speech before the MLAs at party office in Dadar, Fadnavis had said that ‘success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’. But then Fadnavis himself had ensured that nobody could come close to his position while he was sitting on top. During his five year term as the chief minister, many hard core party leaders including Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde, Pankaja Munde, Sudhir Mungantiwar and Prakash Mehta, who were ministers in Fadnavis cabinet, faced allegations of corruptions in various cases. some of them were divested of their portfolios during cabinet expansion. This lead to the widening rift between Fadnavis and the leaders as there was strong feeling among them that the cases were deliberately raked up against them.

At the same time, leaders like Pravin Darekar, Prasad Lad,Mohit Kamboj Bharatiya and Nitesh Rane, who had come from other parties, and had controversial background ,were given importance over the party’s hard core loyal leaders. Fadnavis tried to generate second rung of leaders like Sambhaji Nilangekar, Sanjay Kute, Parinay Fuke by inducting them in the cabinet, but they hardly could leave any impact in organisational set up.

“This led to the vertical divide between the loyalist and the leaders newly joined the party. The debacle in the Lok Sabha election was nothing but the result of party hard core workers, voters and leaders remaining aloof from the election process. The trailer was shown by them during the Kasba Assembly bypoll and Nagpur and Amravati council polls in February-March 2023. The RSS and BJP voters in Amravati graduate constituency registered their protest by casting votes and two candidates and leaving remarks of discontent. Party learnt no lesson from it. Significant reduction in the vote margin of Pune’s LS candidate Murlidhar Mohol is sign of how traditional party voters are moving away from it. Fadnavis will have to bear the responsibility for this as the change in the leadership took shape in the last ten years,” said a senior party leader from western Maharashtra.

He said that the induction of the Ajit Pawar and his faction of NCP into the government was the tipping point of this disgruntlement among the party loyalist. It was evident in the Lok Sabha polls this time, he added. “Fadnavis was credited with every success party had in the last ten years in the state, be it the success in local bodies, council elections, infrastructure projects or even the induction of the big leaders from the other parties. Naturally, he is being blamed for party’s failure in the LS polls,” he added. He however said that though the plan to break two parties -Shiv Sena and NCP - over the last two years was engineered by the central leadership, the face of the plot in the state was Fadnavis and thus the credit and blame both goes to him.

Maratha protest- a backlash

In an interaction during Diwali in October last year when Maratha activist Jarange-Patil’s protest was at the peak, Fadnavis had said that they committed some mistakes in handling Maratha protest in 2016-17 owing to the lack of experience in the government. He also added that this time they were handling it very cautiously. In fact, party insiders believe that mishandling of the Maratha stir and underestimating Jarange-Patil cost the party dear.

“BJP got trapped between Maratha community which was supported by chief minister Eknath Shinde and the OBC community which is the traditional vote bank of the party. In the garb of protecting OBCs, Fadnavis appeared to be targeting Jarange-Patil and Marathas by taking action against them. This irked the Maratha community resulting in the activist openely criticising Fadnavis and appealing community to defeat BJP candidates. On the other hand, OBCs were unhappy with the ruling parties for admitting inclusion of the Marathas in the OBC quota. CM Shinde, in his bid to emerge as the leader of poor Marathas, favoured Marathas and reaped the dividents in LS polls, but at the cost of BJP. As deputy CM, Fadnavis could do little to counter the unrest in two dominant communities and also underestimated the power of Jarange-Patil,” said a Mumbai based BJP leader.

He added that Fadnavis’s announcement of resigning as deputy chief minister may be a way out to pacify Maratha community ahead of the Assembly polls. He pointed out at the Bhima-Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018 and how it deviated Dalits from the BJP in Maharashtra. A section of the BJP state unit also feel that he was being made villain by the community just because he is a Brahmin. “Otherwise he is the one under whose leadership the separate reservation was given to Maartahas in 2018 and 2024,” a leader close to him said.

Stellar performer

Many in state administration laud Fadnavis’ handling of the government during his tenure as chief minister. “He understands subjects, arithmetic in them, has command over the administration and keeps courage to push the projects. Metro lines in Mumbai and Samruddhi Mahamarg (Mumbai-Nagpur expressway) are the best examples of his vision as they were completed at a faster pace. The construction of Metro lines 2A and 7 began on the MMRDA kitty without even waiting for the sanction of JICA loan and it needs courage. Samruddh expressway was completed in record time just because of timely acquisition of thousands of hectares of land. At times he supported ill practices by the officers for the implementation of the projects, but they become necessary,” said a senior officer who did not wish to be named.

Another IAS officer said that he is one politician with whom one cannot play around. “He is hands on type of a leader with knowledge in almost all the sectors he needs to handle. His grasping power is so strong that he does not forget figures once referred to and in fact corrects officers on them many a times during the briefing. He protects good officers and also has handpick team of officers with capacity of going ‘out of way’ to get certain things done,” he added.

Fadnavis was second youngest chief minister of Maharashtra after Sharad Pawar when he was sworn in October 2014. He was 44 then. Five time MLA, Fadnavis was elected mayor of Nagpur at the young age of 22.

Many in the bureaucracy believe that his five year term was one of the best by the CMs in the recent past. He excelled on both the fronts, as an administrator in the government and a political leader while leading the party in political performance. The state did well in infrastructural development, its push by expediting environmental clearance, investment, police-judiciary reforms, social scheme during his stint as the CM. At the same time, the party had bagged more than 75% of the local bodies including corporations, district councils in those five years under him. The party was led by state chiefs like Raosaheb Danve or Chandrakant Patil, but the undisputed head of the party was Fadnavis,” as former bureaucrat from Mantralaya said.

He also said that Fadnavis is a leader who has his own mechanism that keeps him hands on about every development in the state.

Capacity to bounce back

“I am not a person who would run away from the challenges. I am a fighter and have started working for the Assembly polls, from the next day of our defeat of the Lok Sabha polls,” he said while addressing party MLAs last week. In a speech before party workers at Bandra on Thursday he said, “We are down, but not out. We will certainly bounce back.”

Party leaders from the state unit are however in the same page when it comes to leading party in the. assembly polls. They are certain that the party has either no leader matching the capacity of Fadnavis or the ones with the capacity are not ready to take the responsibility fearing the blame of the defeat in the Assembly elections.

“Besides it , there is brewing divide between the Fadnavis camp and the others who were sidelined for years. The opponent camp is getting ‘ strength and support ‘ from the central leadership. This has put the Fadnavis in a pivotal position, but he is a leader who has the capability to bounce back, “ he added.

Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule said, “3.5 million BJP workers in the state have shown faith in his leadership and requested him to not resign as the DyCM. He has capacity of shouldering both the responsibilities, as the DyCM and chief of the election management for the party in Assembly bypolls. We will perform well in the polls under hime.”

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