Whatever happened in Maharashtra politics, there is an atmosphere of sadness among some state-level BJP leaders. In Maharashtra, the BJP surprised everyone by giving the chief minister’s post to rebel Shiv Sena MLA Eknath Shinde and making Devendra Fadnavis deputy chief minister. There are two reasons behind this, as I expected opposition leader Devendra to react on Hindu-related issues, which are the agenda of the BJP. From the mob lynching of two sadhus and their driver on the night of April 16 last year to the arrest of Marathi actor Ketaki Chitale for a Facebook post that was allegedly derogatory against Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Devendra maintained calm, he did not take up these issues as it was expected to from him. AS opposition leader Devendra tried his best in balancing the situation.
This move of making Devendra a Deputy has come as a setback to Fadnavis and his supporters, but its signal should also be understood by the satraps of different BJP states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Tripura, especially where assembly elections are going to be held in the coming time. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s statement of the trust vote in the assembly was vivacious. He spoke candidly and attacked his opponents fiercely. The way he gave a befitting reply to all the allegations against him in the assembly after the government, led by him, won the trust vote, is commendable.
So now all eyes are on what will be Shinde’s next step. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis all are indebted to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde for getting them back to power. While Shinde called Devendra Fadnavis a real artist, he also admitted that the number of MLAs of Shiv Sena is less than BJP. Even after this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given his blessings. Before taking the oath, the Prime Minister had told Eknath that he would help him in all possible ways. Home Minister Amit Shah had said that he would stand like a rock behind him.
I won’t be surprised if Shine continues to be the CM in 2024; on multiple occasions, Fadnavis had lost favour with the party leadership for some time after his failure to form a BJP government in Maharashtra after the 2019 election, despite the party emerging as single-largest in the assembly. The reason for BJP’s inability to form a government at the time was the Shiv Sena walking out of its alliance with the BJP after the election, alleging that the BJP was reneging on its promise of sharing all posts, including the CM’s chair, equally. The Shiv Sena eventually cobbled together an alliance of ideological rivals, Congress and NCP, to keep the BJP out of power.
Fadnavis’ political capital took a further hit after his failed attempt to form a government with the support of a faction of NCP MLAs under Ajit Pawar, and a rushed midnight oath-taking ceremony. The government lasted only for 80 hours as Pawar and others returned to their party camp. However, the BJP leader has bounced back since then, helping the party’s campaign for major victories in the assembly elections in Bihar and Goa in 2020 and 2022, and most recently the Rajya Sabha and MLC elections in Maharashtra earlier this month, which kicked off the MVA’s turmoil.
According to political observers, Fadnavis has also worked hard to strengthen the party’s base in Maharashtra since the formation of the MVA government, extensively travelling through the state during the two waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, and also taking stock on the ground after floods in different parts of Maharashtra last year. Fadnavis also kept the MVA government on its toes with scathing criticism of the MVA’s governance and using his influence within the state’s bureaucracy to target the government with official records on issues such as the Aarey Metro car shed, the Sachin Waze case and an alleged IPS transfers and postings racket.
The various probes by central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax Department and the Central Bureau of Investigation, against more than a dozen MVA leaders, further boosted Fadnavis’ tireless attacks on the MVA. Fadnavis turned out to be a very successful opposition leader. He constantly had tours, and programmes, and kept the MVA government on the back foot with his criticisms. During the entire duration of the MVA government, he was setting the narrative for the political discourse and constantly tried to expose the rifts between the three parties of the MVA. Fadnavis’ clout within the BJP started surging after 2013 when the party appointed him as the state president at a time when senior leaders such as Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari were trying to push their own candidates. Fadnavis was seen as someone who did not belong to any particular camp.
Since then, over the last eight years, Fadnavis has tightened his hold over the Maharashtra BJP, distancing old guards such as Vinod Tawde, Eknath Khadse and Pankaja Munde, who could have potentially challenged his position within the party. A series of decisions by the Bharatiya Janata Party central leadership in recent days has left former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis looking isolated and weakened in a party that once projected him as Maharashtra’s fresh-face, savvy, Gen Next Hindutva leader, with potential for elevation to the national stage.