Devendra Fadnavis begins a 24-day yatra. It messages he has arrived | Opinion
Less than three months before assembly elections are held in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has embarked on “Mahajanadesh Yatra”, a statewide tour, to reach out to the people. During his 24-day tour that began on Thursday, Fadnavis will travel through 150 assembly constituencies to address 87 public meetings and 57 corner meetings, asking people to vote for his government on the basis of its performance in five years since it came to power in 2014. For all practical purposes, the Yatra is launch of BJP’s poll campaign in Maharashtra. The party’s entire rank and file would participate to create a buzz in the state in favour of the party.
Significantly, the Yatra will be as much about the BJP government in Maharashtra as about Fadnavis and his leadership. In 2014 assembly elections, the BJP had sought the votes in the name of Narendra Modi who had just become prime minister. Then Fadnavis was state BJP chief but was considered a lightweight politician since the party had at least half-a-dozen established leaders including Nitin Gadkari. Not many considered him a chief ministerial material. Even when he was picked for the job, many in the party thought he would have to make way for a stronger leader in a year or two.
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Five years later, things have changed. Fadnavis has established himself as the party’s top leader who is in complete control of his government. He ran the government effectively though there could be different opinions about its performance. There were a few allegations of corruption but the government never faced trouble over the same. Fadnavis has managed to keep opposition parties in check by countering their attack. He also thwarted the moves by the opposition, especially veteran leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party boss Sharad Pawar to unsettle him. He did it by keeping a tight control over the cooperative sector that has been the backbone of the Congress-NCP combine, especially in western Maharashtra. He also ensured that the BJP-Sena won control of most of the rural and urban local government bodies to deny the chance to the Opposition to wield power at the grassroot level.
The government’s success in giving reservation to Maratha that was upheld by the Bombay High Court has earned him goodwill among the politically-powerful Marathas. Till then, being a Bramhin chief minister of a Maratha-dominated state was being considered as his weakness.
With the thumping victory in Lok Sabha elections (BJP-Sena alliance won 41 of Maharashtra’s 48 seats), Fadnavis is now confident of romping home. To avoid any risk, he has ensured alliance with the Sena. He also maintained cordial relations with Sena leadership and brokered peace between the two ruling parties.
If the BJP under him returns to power with a performance anywhere close to 2014, Fadnavis’ stature will grow further in the party. It is a foregone conclusion that Fadnavis would be the chief minister again.
“Fadnavis is focusing on the performance of his government in five years in his campaign now. Whatever advantages and disadvantages the party faces because of the government will be his responsibility,” said political analyst Abhay Deshpande.
“Of course, he would reap the benefit if they return to power,” he added.
Things may not be entirely smooth for Fadnavis though. His revenue minister Chandrakant Patil who was recently made state BJP chief is slowly positioning himself as an alternative to Fadnavis. Patil is a trusted aide of union home minister Amit Shah. Undoubtedly, if the BJP’s seats reduce considerably (in 2014 it won 122 out of 288 assembly seats), Fadnavis will have to face the flak.
But for now, the party needs him and he is the face of the BJP in Maharashtra as the battle for assembly begins.