The rise of Devendra Fadnavis, the helmsman of the first BJP government in Maharashtra, from an obscure Nagpur corporator to the Chief Minister has been quiet but steady.
The 44-year-old fourth term MLA, who worked for long under the shadows of stalwarts like Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari, has deep roots in RSS and was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party Chief Amit Shah over his seniors for his organisational skills after BJP’s triumphant run in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
The untimely death of Mahajan and Munde, the latter was tipped for chief ministership if BJP came to power in the state, and Gadkari’s shift to the national stage, left a vacuum in state party leadership but opened a new vista for the young leader’s march to Mantralaya, the seat of power in Maharashtra.
In a state dominated by Maratha politicians, Fadnavis is only the second Brahmin Chief Minister after estranged former ally Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi and second youngest to hold the top post after NCP boss Sharad Pawar.
The soft spoken and portly young leader was a clear favourite for the coveted job 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, with the solid backing from Modi and Shah.
“Devendra is Nagpur’s gift to the country,” Modi had said of him at an election rally, clearly indicating his preference for the man groomed in true RSS tradition like himself.
Though Modi had launched a presidential-style campaign blitzkrieg in Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly polls, credit for the emphatic victories also went to Fadnavis, the state BJP president.
Together with Shiv Sena and Swabhimani Shetkari Paksha, the saffron alliance had won 42 of the state’s 48 Lok Sabha seats.
Despite its messy separation with Sena just ahead of the Assembly election, BJP won 122 seats in the 288-member House, up from 46 in 2009. Its strength has, however, come down to 121 following the death of an MLA Govind Rathod.
Son of RSS activist and BJP MLC late Gangadhar Fadnavis, whom his fellow Nagpur politician and former party chief Nitin Gadkari calls his “political guru”, Fadnavis 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.
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, snuffed out all competition to emerge the winner.
Though the path ahead had appeared fraught with troubles for him after Sena announced its decision to boycott his government’s inauguration on account of “constant humiliation” by BJP, a last minute phone call by Amit Shah to Uddhav and the latter’s decision to attend the oath-taking ceremony must have come as a welcome relief.
Taking Shiv Sena with 63 MLAs on board will ensure long-term stability of his government.
But for Sena to come out of the sulk, it would want a substantial share in the government pie.
Technically a minority dispensation with 121 MLAs, the Fadnavis government hopes for NCP’s prop to bail it out during the trust vote with 41 MLAs of Sharad Pawar-led party abstaining.
Though NCP has declared unconditional outside support to the BJP government, given the ideological and political differences between the two parties, stability of the new dispensation could be at risk.
Moreover, many feel, NCP will want the government to shield several of its top leaders facing corruption charges which it can ill afford to do after a high-pitch electoral campaign during which it repeatedly targeted Sharad Pawar’s party over graft.
Having Sena on board is the best option available to Fadnavis as support from seven independents and other smaller parties is inadequate to reach the magic figure of 145.