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7-min read

Fadnavis at Crossroads: Facing 'Baptism by Sena', Why the Battle is About More Than Just a 2nd Term as CM

The Maharashtra CM's growing stature had many pegging him for bigger things on the national stage, but the test he faces now could decide whether he lives up to the expectations.

Vinaya Deshpande | CNN-News18@vinivdvc

Updated:November 4, 2019, 6:26 PM IST
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Fadnavis at Crossroads: Facing 'Baptism by Sena', Why the Battle is About More Than Just a 2nd Term as CM
Devendra Fadnavis is walking a tightrope with Shiv Sena seeking to extract its pound of flesh. (Illustration by Mir Suhail)

Devendra Fadnavis is a worried man these days. The perception of the BJP being a perfectly run unit in Maharashtra under his command, with dominance over money, muscle and leadership, has come crumbling down in the last few days as the deadlock over government formation stretches to 11 days.

Seeking to extract its pound of flesh after the BJP’s below par tally in the election, the Shiv Sena has amped up the rhetoric. The stalemate getting longer has also given an opening to savvy NCP chief Sharad Pawar to make his moves behind the scenes and explore the possibility of a government sans the BJP.

Amid all this, there seems to be no help coming for Fadnavis to untangle the mess. On Monday, he flew to Delhi to meet BJP chief Amit Shah, whose absence in this political drama has not gone unnoticed.

Questions have swirled in the power corridors of the state over whether Fadnavis, whose rise in the state’s politics was being celebrated in the run-up to the assembly election, has been left to fend for himself by the party high command.

His growing stature in the crucial state had many observers pegging him for bigger things on the national stage, but the test he faces now in his state could decide whether he lives up to the expectations.

With 105 out of 288 assembly seats in its kitty, the BJP looks vulnerable and helpless at this point and most of the blame has fallen on the CM’s shoulders.

The move to poach leaders from Congress-NCP backfired, the decision to support independent candidates against Shiv Sena further estranged the sulking ally, and internal party politics to clip other powerful leaders’ wings has vitiated the environment within the organisation.

Farmers’ distress, unemployment, economic crisis and the failure to pacify those hurt by Maratha reservation has only added to the woes.

Going Into a Shell

Ten days on, the CM has barely given any glimpse into his thought process as the magic figure of 145 still seems elusive.

Known to be an introvert, Fadnavis has always been very well-guarded with his words and public appearances. It is not for no reason that a team of handpicked men and women curate every word and image of Fadnavis that goes out in the public domain.

It is also the insecurity of being a young politician without a godfather, in a vicious political environment that does not take disruptions in social engineering kindly.

On the outside, it looks like Fadnavis has failed to bring his squabbling ally to the table, and has only added oil to the fire by asserting that there was no 50-50 power-sharing deal. But, what worries him more is his isolation within the party and the clipping of the wings of his confidantes.

A party which played hardball in Haryana recently, and in Goa in the recent past, seems to have abandoned Maharashtra despite being the single largest party by quite a margin here.

While questions have been raised about the absence of Amit Shah, the more important question for Maharashtra, perhaps, is where is Nitin Gadkari? At a time when the opposition parties have turned the fire on Fadnavis while he tries to unsuccessfully convince Sena of the lack of alternatives, he seems to be a lone warrior.

Crown With Thorns

After becoming the surprise pick to be the Maharashtra CM in 2014 (he was only the second Brahmin CM in the state, and the only Brahmin in his cabinet), the 49-year-old navigated through any caste-allegiances successfully.

He also engineered the BJP’s victory in local self-government elections by mainly poaching the winning candidates. When there was furore about corrupt names being inducted in the party for electoral gains, his famous retort was, “Just like a daughter gets the ‘sanskaar’ of her new home once she is married, these leaders will be given our ‘sanskaars’.”

The strategy paid off then. It has boomeranged now.

The biggest example of it was an heir to the Chhatrapati’s throne of Satara, a venerable position among the Marathas, also falling to this public anger. Not only did Udayanraje Bhosale get defeated, Sharad Pawar’s Satara rally became iconic in Maharashtra politics with his rain-drenched images going viral.

Since Fadnavis had positioned himself as a leader who brought victory through such defections in the local elections, he also had to take the blame for the loss of seats in Assembly elections.

The ED’s naming of Pawar in a corruption case also seems to have turned the tide against the BJP. And though it wasn’t Fadnavis’ call, he stood to lose the most because of it.

“The way Fadnavis behaved before the elections was not over-confidence, but arrogance. And people of Maharashtra don’t like such arrogance. Mocking the opposition, calling them not a fight, using pejorative terms doesn’t suit the chief minister,” the NCP supremo told CNN-News18.

Fadnavis’ right hand man, Girish Mahajan, who had boasted of 220+ seats before elections, is also a mellow man today. The person who used to predict in which direction the winds are blowing in Maharashtra politics, today redirects any queries to Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakantdada Patil.

Patil, an RSS man, though new to electoral politics, has emerged as the No.2 in state BJP, and Amit Shah’s favourite. In the internal circles of BJP, the cadres joke about a ‘Kolhapur-camp’ (Chandrakant Patil), and a ‘Nagpur-camp’ (Devendra Fadnavis).

He is known to have made contradictory statements in the past, putting Fadnavis in a tight spot. After other competitors like Eknath Khadse, Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde were eliminated, this potential competitor has been pegged as the new leader in the state.

Recently, when the first official meeting between the Shiv Sena and the BJP was to take place, it was Patil along with Bhupendra Yadav who were picked to represent the BJP.

The meeting was cancelled by Uddhav Thackeray at the last minute after Fadnavis remarked that rotational term for the CM was not discussed in front of him.

Surrounded, Yet Alone

The central BJP leadership had made it clear before the elections that the state unit will do the talking with the Sena on the power sharing. At that time, it looked like the BJP may have to concede the deputy CM post to its ally at best.

But now, with the Sena sticking to its demand for the CM post being shared, Fadnavis doesn’t know which way to look.

Shiv Sena’s aggressive face Sanjay Raut has targeted Fadnavis non-stop, Sharad Pawar has already called the delay a ‘childish game’, and the Congress has adopted a wait and watch policy. But there is barely anyone coming forward in support of Fadnavis from the BJP camp.

Through all this, Amit Shah’s absence has raised more questions on whether Fadnavis has been left to fend for himself. While talks for government formation have taken days in the past as well, the swiftness with which the BJP moved in Haryana recently, and in Goa in the recent past after the demise of Manohar Parrikar, has raised more questions about the party’s strategy here.

Political pundits predict that though it may take time, the BJP and the Shiv Sena will ultimately come together to form government in Maharashtra. Has this confidence led to the festering of this tangle?

Why is Gadkari Silent

Though everyone is asking about Amit Shah, a more pertinent issue has been the absence of Nitin Gadkari. In the BJP camp, if any senior BJP leader has access and goodwill across party lines, from Matoshree to Silver Oak, it is Gadkari. His friendship with Sharad Pawar is well-known.

But Gadkari has been curiously away from the limelight for sometime. The man who had visited Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray before the Lok Sabha elections, the man who had sat in a hotel in Goa throughout the night to resolve the high drama in the state after the demise of Parrikar, is out of sight today.

In Nagpur, he has even moved his residence from a sprawling bungalow to a top floor flat in a high-rise, making himself inaccessible to party cadre.

So far, despite requests from some state leaders, he has chosen to stay out of this power tussle. Many believe, Gadkari’s interference will solve the tangle soon. But the question is - will he talk and what is in it for him?

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| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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