The annual Vijaya Dashami address of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, delivered at the organisational headquarters in Nagpur, is considered the political mission statement of the Sangh. This year, sharing the stage with Bhagwat was a beaming Devendra Fadnavis, the 49-year-old Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Fadnavis has become only the second Chief Minister of the state to complete a full term. An earlier joint announcement of the seat-sharing agreement with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray got the approaching election was an optic that testified to the rise and rise of Fadnavis, a three-term state legislator from Nagpur.
Just eight months ago, Fadnavis had to wait outside the room in "Matoshree", the storied Thackeray residence, while his boss and BJP chief Amit Shah negotiated the deal for divvying up the 48 parliamentary seats in Maharashtra (the alliance won all but eight of the total seats in the state). Things have certainly changed this time around. The BJP has ruthlessly reduced the Sena to an obvious junior partner in the alliance with the former contesting 150 seats and the Sena being allocated 124 seats.
And while Thackeray battles a mass rebellion with 26 corporators and 300 workers quitting over the Sena slice of the pie, Fadnavis has managed to ensure that his rivals within the BJP such as Education Minister Vinod Tawde were denied seats. Tawde was denied the Borivali seat, considered the safest BJP constituency. Fadnavis, tightening his grip on the Maharashtra BJP, has also ensured that erstwhile strongman Eknath Khadse, who has been less than complimentary about him, was denied a ticket from Jalgaon. Shah called Khadse and placated him by giving the seat instead to his daughter, Rohini Khadse Khewalkar.
When Fadnavis became Chief Minister in 2014, he had no administrative experience and was a complete unknown outside Maharashtra. Like Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, he emerged as the surprise choice of Modi and Shah. Fadnavis had the advantage of being a Sangh favourite and, as a Maharashtrian Brahmin, the leader that Bhagwat doted upon.
Unlike Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, another Maharashtrian Brahmin and Sangh favourite, both Modi and Shah were on the same page as the Sangh on Fadnavis.
Yet, his in-house rivals dismissed him as a complete lightweight who would not complete his term. Fadnavis proved them utterly wrong. Says a bitter BJP Maratha leader, "Fadnavis has used Modi's Gujarat model and playbook to destroy rivals. He has ensured that both Delhi and Nagpur are happy with him and unlike most Maharashtra Chief Ministers, he has kept out of controversy. When a controversy broke out about his high-profile banker wife, Amruta, he just played doting husband and all was forgiven. Even his lack of administrative skills has not been a deterrent."
Fadnavis, unlike Yogi Adityanath, has learnt on the job and ensured no messy public controversies. He has also been credited with delivering on his promise to Shah of a giant share of Lok Sabha seats.
Ever since then, Shah has sworn by Fadnavis, backing him fully and refusing to allow any room to detractors. Modi and Shah have also ensured that Fadnavis, who caters to the same constituency as Gadkari, is now a serious rival.
So what next for Fadnavis? He is confident of returning to "Varsha", the Chief Minister's residence, for an unprecedented second term and is currently basking in the glow of being the tallest BJP leader in Maharashtra. On the Modi-Shah watch, this sort of profile is rare.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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