Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

The Political Journey Of Devendra Fadnavis And His Return To Power

It's a bittersweet victory for Devendra Fadnavis as he succeeded in toppling Uddhav Thackeray's government but has to now contend with being deputy to Eknath Shinde, whose boss he had once been.

Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis File Photo

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Devendra Fadnavis in December 2019 said in a reference to the then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray that people should not make homes on the sea shore seeing his receding waters, as he is a sea that would surely return to the space it had receded from.

Two and a half years later, true to his words, Fadnavis is now back and Uddhav has been made to retreat from the sea shore that he made home on.  

However, it's a bittersweet victory for Fadnavis who succeeded in toppling Uddhav-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government but has to now contend with being the number two to the man whose boss he had once been, as the BJP made him CM Eknath Shinde's deputy. 

From being the second-youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2014 to second-in-command of Shinde in 2022, Fadnavis has travelled a long road both as an administrator and politician. Here we profile him in which we trace his roots, his political journey, how he scripted his return to power, and how the BJP's move to make him Shinde's deputy fits in.

A Brahmin leader in Maratha territory

Maharashtra and Marathas have become synonymous with each other over the years. Not just culturally, but the community dominates the state socially and politically as well.

Of the 20 Maharashtra CMs, 13 have been from the Maratha community, according to India Today. Yet Fadnavis became the chief minister in 2014 despite unease among Marathas at the time. 

Fadnavis was hit with Maratha reservation agitation and farmers' protest early in his tenure, but he sailed through both the challenges. He passed the Maratha Reservation Bill without affecting the quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who are one of the main BJP voters. In doing so, he placated both the Marathas and OBCs. 

When farmers marched against Fadnavis and reached Mumbai in protest, he met farmer leaders and agreed to most of their demands, according to India Today, which further noted that while Marathas —who also dominate Maharashtra's farming sector— used to be the backbone of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance, Fadnavis reached out to the community and convinced them to join the BJP in large numbers.

In Deccan Herald's words, Fadnavis has "carved a niche for himself" in Maratha-dominated Maharashtra's politics.

Well educated, soft-spoken politician

Devendra Fadnavis was born on July 22, 1970 in Maharashtra's Nagpur, home to BJP's ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). 

Fadnavis graduated from the Government Law College, Nagpur in 1992 with an integrated law degree and completed his Post Graduate Degree in Business Management and a Diploma in Project Management from DSE Berlin. 

In the 1990s, Fadnavis began his political career at RSS and joined Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) later. Fadnavis won his first municipal election from Nagpur's Ram Nagar Ward and was elected as the youngest Corporator at the age of 22 in 1992. 

In 1997, Fadnavis became the youngest Mayor of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation and the second youngest Mayor in India. 

Since 1999, Fadnavis has been to Maharashtra assmebly five times. As an MLA, he raised several issues in the assembly and used to put the Congress-NCP coalition in trouble when he serving in the Opposition, according to Deccan Herald

In 2010, Fadnavis served as the General Secretary of BJP's Maharashtra unit and he became the state unit chief in 2013. 

The Deccan Herald noted Fadnavis is a "rare breed of politician who is both intellectual, as well as popular with the masses". 

It further noted, "Soft-spoken and well-educated, he is a no-nonsense administrator. He is at ease in all situations—whether speaking to grassroot-level workers, or blue-collar executives or farmers or handling an angry march."

The return of Devendra Fadnavis

Devendra Fadnavis had been pounding the Uddhav-led MVA government since its formation. Some of the biggest scandals affecting Uddhav Thackeray's MVA government involved Fadnavis.

The Indian Express reported, "In the phone-tapping case in which senior police officer Rashmi Shukla is an accused, Fadnavis claims to have been the whistleblower. He was also instrumental in charges that former home minister Anil Deshmukh and NCP minister Nawab Malik are facing."

While the rebellion within Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde emerged on June 21, signs that Fadnavis's efforts to return to power were in the final phase were visible earlier as well.

Shinde's rebellion was the third time in weeks that the BJP had outsmarted the MVA coalition. In the Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP secured three seats despite lacking the numbers for the third seat. In Maharashtra Legislative Council polls, while the BJP had enough numbers to get four candidates elected, its fifth candidate also won after securing support from MLAs outside his party's pool of legislators. The Express reported at least three MLAs each of Shiv Sena and Congress, and further more from its smaller alliance partners, cross-voted in the elections. 

The final blow, of course, was Shinde's rebellion, but that too had Fadnavis's hand. 

The Hindustan Times reported that Fadnavis had shortlisted Shinde to lead the rebellion.

"It was Fadnavis who identified Eknath Shinde as the 'potential bait' to effect the vertical split in Sena after it became evident that it would be difficult to break NCP or lure sufficient number of Congress MLAs," reported the paper quoting a BJP leader.

The BJP's move to make Fadnavis Deputy CM

While the understanding prior to the final announcement regarding government-formation was that Devendra Fadnavis would be chief minister and Shinde would be his deputy, Fadnavis announced that it would be Shinde at the helm of the government and he himself would not be part of the government. 

This would have elevated Fadnavis to what's popularly called the person with "remote control" in Maharashtra's political parlance. Earlier, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray have been called to have remote controls of governments at their time as they are believed to have influenced the functioning without having any position in it.

However, Fadnavis's elevation to Bal Thackeray's stature was shortlived as the BJP soon after Fadnavis's announcement made him take the post of Deputy Chief Minister in the government. The action has been seen differently by different people, with some calling it "humiliation" of Fadnavis and some saying an insecure central BJP leadership has tried to put an end to Fadnavis's rise, as he could have become a successor or an alternative to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's regime at the centre in years to come.

Commentators have also seen political rationale in it. While R Jagannathan called it "illogical", he also highlighted the politics behind it.

He wrote in Swarajya, "Anointing Shinde as Chief Minister makes a lot of sense since the primary goal is to ensure that the Uddhav Thackeray part of the Shiv Sena does not have an emotive issue to take to the streets: the loss of the chief ministership to a non-Sena leader."

Jagannathan also wrote that making Shinde —a Maratha— as chief minister would also placate the Maratha community, which he says could be triggered against the new government by NCP. But he still writes that the BJP has created a complication that was avoidable.

He wrote, "In this scenario, it would have made sense for Fadnavis to head the coordination panel of the coalition by staying outside the government. This way, he could have still wielded influence with Shinde & Co, apart from the BJP’s own ministerial flock."

Commentators have also said that by demoting Fadnavis, the BJP leadership is trying to change the nature of its politics in Maharashtra. The Hindu noted it's an attempt to "create a Maratha leadership in the State under the Hindutva banner".

One of the main charges of Shiv Sena rebels against Uddhav was that he had given up Sena's and Bal Thackeray's Hindutva credentials by partnering with NCP and Congress.