From an obscure corporator to becoming the youngest Mayor of Nagpur, to the first BJP Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis’ climb up the political ladder has been steady.
In a state dominated by Maratha politics and politicians, the 44-year-old leader, with deep roots in RSS, is only the second Brahmin after BJP’s estranged ally Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi to become Chief Minister.
The soft spoken and portly young leader was a clear favourite for the coveted post through the intense lobbying by a clutch of leaders from BJP’s state Core Committee after it emerged as the single largest party but always looked certain to clinch it, largely due to the confidence he enjoys of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.
“Devendra is Nagpur’s gift to the country,” Modi had said of him at an election rally.
Though Modi had launched a presidential-style campaign blitzkrieg in Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly polls, a portion of the credit also went to Fadnavis, state BJP president, for the party’s unprecedented victories in both.
Together with Shiv Sena and Swabhimani Shetkari Paksha, the saffron alliance had won 42 of the state’s 48 Lok Sabha seats.
Despite its bitter separation with Sena just ahead of the Assembly election, BJP won 122 seats in the 288-member House, up from 46 in 2009. Fadnavis earned the appreciation of both Modi and Shah for the way he handled the election.
Son of Jan Sangh and later BJP leader late Gangadhar Fadnavis, whom his fellow Nagpur politician and former party chief Nitin Gadkari calls his “political guru”, Devendra cut his teeth in politics at a young age when he joined Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students wing of RSS, in 1989.
At 22, he became a corporator in the Nagpur civic body and its youngest Mayor in 1997 at the age of 27.
Fadnavis contested his first Assembly election in 1999 and won. There was no looking back for the strong proponent of a separate Vidarbha state as he won three subsequent Assembly elections. He currently represents Nagpur South West seat in the House.
Unlike many leaders across the political spectrum in Maharashtra, Fadnavis has remained untainted by accusations of corruption.
Clearly one of the most articulate of top Maharashtra politicians, Fadnavis is also credited with pushing the previous Congress-NCP government into a corner over the alleged irrigation scam, which many allege is primarily responsible for the spate of suicide by farmers in the parched Vidarbha region.
The Vidarbha cause was so close to his heart that during a debate on a separate state he once angrily told “chalte waha (get out of Vidarbha)” to Shiv Sena MLAs, then an ally of BJP.
Shiv Sena has been consistently opposing division of Maharashtra to create Vidarbha state.
However, Fadnavis toned down his pro-Vidarbha rhetoric during the Assembly poll campaign when BJP was accused by Sena of contemplating splitting the state if voted to power, saying though the party favoured smaller states for administrative efficiency, creation of new states was within the purview of the Centre.
Fadnavis holds a degree in law and post-graduate degree in Business Management and has written two books on economics.
Unlike some of those whose names were doing the rounds for chief ministership like Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly Eknath Khadse and former state BJP Chief Sudhir Mungantiwar, Fadnavis never held any ministerial position.
Amid the jockeying for the top post, Fadnavis’ detractors had highlighted lack of administrative experience in order to edge him out of the race.
However, armed with a clean public image and solid backing from Modi-Shah combine, the young leader from Nagpur, from where RSS runs its writ over the larger saffron family, cleared all hurdles to emerge the winner.