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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Fadnavis big on development, infra; detractors say little proof on ground

india Updated: Oct 08, 2019 23:03 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge


In April 2013, a year ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) named Devendra Fadnavis, 43, a three-term legislator from Nagpur, the chief of the party’s Maharashtra unit. He was a compromise candidate; the family and supporters of the late Gopinath Munde and the camp of former BJP president (he had resigned earlier that year from the post) Nitin Gadkari were jockeying for control and Fadnavis was acceptable to both.

At the time, no one thought that a year-and-half later, he would be picked as chief minister of India’s richest state, which also sends the most number of representatives to the Lok Sabha (48) after Uttar Pradesh.

Five years on, as the BJP seeks a second term in power in the state which goes to polls on October 21, there is no doubt on who will lead the state if the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition wins power. Fadnavis, now 49, has not only cemented his position as the chief minister in the past five years but also emerged the tallest leader in Maharashtra, putting in the shade even party veteran and another RSS favourite from Nagpur, Nitin Gadkari. By engineering mass defections from the opposition he has also dented their morale just ahead of the polls

That’s quite an achievement for someone whose only administrative experience before he became CM was being mayor of Nagpur. Fadnavis did not respond to a request for an interview for this article.

BJP leadership support

Fadnavis’ party colleagues, rivals and analysts all agree that one reason for Fadnavis’ success is the complete backing he has from the BJP’s central leadership. Sure, this isn’t alien in the BJP, which tends to back sitting chief ministers, especially those it views as performers (and Fadnavis would count among these). But it stands out in Maharashtra simply because it is a departure in the state’s political history, with Congress Chief Ministers – the party ruled the state for all but five years and a bit since Maharashtra’s founding in 1960 -- rarely enjoying complete trust of the High Command. Even the first non-Congress government in the state, led by the Shiv Sena from 1995 to 1999 (the BJP was part of the coalition, but a junior partner) saw two Chief Ministers, with Manohar Joshi being replaced by Narayan Rane in the last year of the party’s rule.

Fadnavis also has a powerful backer in the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP. His father, Gangadhar Fadnavis was a senior Jansangh leader and later BJP legislator; Fadnavis has been closely associated with the RSS since his early days. Dressed in the organisation’s brown trousers, white shirt, and triangular cap he was one of the dignitaries on stage during RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s annual Vijayadashami speech on Tuesday.

His aunt Shobha Fadnavis, a BJP member, was a minister in the first Shiv Sena government.

“The clear backing from the top has ensured that Fadnavis had a free run to implement his vision for Maharashtra without hurdles. It helps that he has a very clear development vision for the state, which he has been largely successful in implementing,’’ said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be named.

Still, the BJP’s desire to expand its presence in the state, and have a succession plan in place, is already evident, say analysts.

They point to the electoral debut of state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, who will contest from a safe seat, Kothrud in Pune. Patil is being projected by the party as its Maratha face – Fadnavis is a Brahmin -- and most analysts agree that he will be a power centre to reckon with in the state if the BJP-Shiv Sena return to power.

Shrewd politician

When Fadnavis took over as CM, most of his party colleagues expected him to do well in terms of administration and policies. He was, after all, analysts point out, best known for his speeches on the budget from the opposition benches. Few expected him to do well in electoral politics, leave alone realpolitik.

He surprised everyone.

In the 2017 civic body elections held in the state, the BJP outdid its partner of many years, the Shiv Sena. Today, it controls 15 of the 27 civic corporations in the state on its own and has 82 corporators, just two less than the Shiv Sena in the latter’s citadel, Mumbai.

“The past five years have shown that Fadnavis is perhaps even more politically shrewd than NCP chief Sharad Pawar. After all, he has won several bouts with the veteran politician in the state on issues including protests by farmers and Marathas. He is smart, well read, understated, and, most importantly, a master strategist. That’s how he was even in college,’’ said a Mumbai based former journalist, who has known the chief minister from his Nagpur days.

The journalist points out that with the help of his party top bosses, he has even managed to sideline all his rivals, with two aspirants for the CM’s post the last time round, Vinod Tawde and Eknath Khadse not even getting tickets to contest the coming elections.

Fadnavis’ relations with the Shiv Sena have also worked in his favour. He has a direct communication channel with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. It is a relationship that had helped him to ensure that the government remained stable, and he convinced the Sena to agree to an alliance to ahead of the Lok Sabha as well as the assembly polls .

Fadnavis’ control was most evident during the Maratha protests. A dominant land-owning agrarian community, the mixed fortunes of agriculture over the past few years have hurt Marathas who see reservations in educational institutions and government jobs as a way out.

This demand, and their protests were posed Fadnavis’ biggest challenge.

The Chief Minister was quick to set up a cabinet sub-committee, comprising his Maratha cabinet colleagues to address the grievances of the community even as he sought to come up with a formula that would withstand legal scrutiny.

:The CM never lets a situation go out of control. Any protest, and there have been several in Maharashtra, and he is quick to get the protesters to the discussion table. Once they come to the discussion table, you have won half the battle,’’ said a senior bureaucrat who asked not to be named.

“He has tackled challenges such as the farmers strike, droughts, or Maratha protests by being responsive and stemming discontent. To just give one example, at the height of the water scarcity in Marathwada in 2015, he got a water train to Latur, and thus shifted the narrative in his favour,’’ said political analyst Hemant Desai.

Political opponents don’t quite see it that way and say much of Fadnavis’ much-touted success is just political propaganda, not real achievement.

“He is a shrewd politician who hasn’t really done much for Maharashtra in his tenure. His government’s performance in social sector, investments and employment is abysmal. Crime rates have continued to been very high,’’ said Nationalist Congress Party (MP) Supriya Sule.

Development agenda

Development has been Fadnavis’ big agenda – across big investments in urban infrastructure and financial aid for irrigation projects

Fadnavis has run with the same Mumbai Transformation project first envisaged by his predecessors in 2003 but he has scaled it up.

Mumbai saw the creation of one metro corridor spanning 11.4 km from the previous government; the Fadnavis-led government is implementing 337 km of metro corridors in the city with an investment of Rs 1.40 lakh crore out of which six lines are under construction. That’s besides metro projects in other cities in ste state -- Pune, Nagpur, Nasik.

He has also sought to push other big ticket projects planned by the previous government -- from the Mumbai Transharbour Link to the Navi Mumbai airport.

Through his tenure, Fadnavis has also retained his image as a clean politician. While his predecessor Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress was also known as Mr Clean, he was also accused of being very slow to take decisions.

“The Chief Minister is a quick decision maker and he has ensured that the state secretariat under him works on his concept of mission-mode delivery. While people may say that he is politically shrewd, I think what defines his tenure as CM is not politicking but his development agenda,’’ said Shweta Shalini, a BJP spokesperson.

There’s nothing on the ground yet, say activists and urban planners.

“The public perception is that the BJP government has invested thousands of crores in infrastructure and these projects will materialise in the next four years. The on ground scenario is that there has been no improvement in the city’s civic amenities, starting with its potholed roads,’’ said transport expert Sulakshana Mahajan.

Political opponents also question the CM’s reputation for being clean when many of his cabinet colleagues have faced allegations of graft.

For instance former housing minister Prakash Mehta had faced allegations of favouring a private developer by granting additional buildable rights in violation of norms in a slum rehabilitation project in Tardeo. The allegations had forced Fadnavis to set up a Lok Ayukta inquiry against the minister as the latter had initially claimed that even CM was in the know of the decision. The report of the ombudsman is still not public though it has been submitted to the government. Mehta was dropped from the cabinet this year and recently was also not given a ticket to contest assembly polls.

Despite attempts made to contact him, Mehta did not respond on the issue.

In this reply in the state assembly, Mehta had said that all allegations against him were false and no decision had been taken on that project.

In all CM set up three official inquiries into allegations of graft including two against senior ministers -Mehta and Subhash Desai (Sena)- and one against a bureaucrat - Radheshyam Mopalwar. While the Lokayukta inquiry against Mehta is still not out, both Desai and Mopalwar got clean chits. Former revenue minister Eknath Khadse, who was asked to resign in 2016 following allegations of corruption in purchase of a 3 acre plot got a clean chit from the Anti Corruption Bureau in 2018. However, this has been challenged by a social activist in court.

”By not taking allegations of corruption against his cabinet colleagues or officials seriously, the Chief Minister has emboldened this culture as people know they will never be punished. We have raised serious allegations against as many as 21 ministers in his cabinet but all of them have got clean chits (from the government),’’ said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.

“After a long time, Maharashtra has got an efficient and a sincere Chief Minister. The Opposition has tried desperately to malign our government with flimsy allegations made without any evidence or tangible proofs. That’s the reason that no court has also taken any of their allegations seriously,” said BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhyay.

First Published: Oct 08, 2019 23:03 IST

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