Thursday, June 8, 2023

Maharashtra’s Lone Ranger

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As BJP chief minister of this large state, he has been a disappointment. Perceived as a puppet of Modi and Amit Shah, his inertia and lack of tact have not gone down well

By Neeta Kolhatkar

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah chose Devendra Fad-navis over three other leaders—Eknath Khadse, Sudhir Munga-tiwar and Vinod Tawde—as Maharashtra chief minister, there were high expectations from this “young and dynamic” leader, as national dailies described him.

He evoked interest. After all, he was a politician with no mass support and had broken many rules, chiefly the dominance of the Maratha caste. He was originally from Vidarbha, a backward and ignored region of Maharashtra and known mainly for farmers’ suicides. Vidarbha, till now, had no representation in state politics. Most of all, unlike Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, Fadnavis was not considered close to the Shiv Sena, BJP’s ally.


Here was a man who, as opposition leader, had made all the right noises in the Maharashtra assembly and had begun to be perceived as a man who stood for ideals. Among the pertinent issues that he had raised, were studied allegations on the irrigation scam, Adarsh scam and farmers’ suicides, and of the Congress-NCP-led government being run by thugs. All these had got him headlines.

Today, this same man, as chief minister, is being accused of standing for the ideals of his bosses, behaving like a lone ranger and leaving out important leaders from his own party. “He has not been a team person from the beginning; he was always a lone ranger. Yes, he is intelligent, does a thorough study, but as an office bearer of the BJP, he is there only for name’s sake,” says a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.

When Fadnavis took over as CM, expectations were high as corporates and industries felt that he would bring about a change in the working environment of the state.


Devendra Fadnavis with his political bosses Narendra Modi and Amit Shah

“He has not been a team person; he was always a lone ranger…  As an office bearer of the BJP, he is there only for name’s sake.”— A senior BJP leader 

However, after the initial noises, Fadnavis has been unable to deal with the repercussions of some tough policy decisions. These are the river regulation zone policy, compensation for farmers and a development plan for Mumbai.
“It is evident that decisions are being taken on his behalf. Fadnavis should have been more aggressive in demanding higher compensation for the affected farmers. He claims to have been informed (of issues), but we would expect him to decide too,” says Clyde Crasto, spokesperson for the NCP.

Arvind Sawant, an MP from the Shiv Sena, too does not mince words. “We are hopeful that Fadnavis will be more proactive in taking decisions for housing the poor, coastal roads and development of Mumbai,” he says.


The general opinion among politicians about Fadnavis is that he is a puppet CM for his two bosses, Modi and Shah. “During the UPA tenure, the government had taken a decision to set up an international financial centre in Mumbai. Modi decided to shift it to Gujarat. All that our CM has done is to allow himself to be used as a puppet by Modi, the BJP and the RSS,” says Mumbai Regional Congress Committee president Sanjay Nirupam.

Ever since he took over, Fadnavis has got himself cornered over taking support from the NCP, which Modi had called as the “naturally corrupt party”. The first instance was getting through the vote of confidence with the help of the NCP. And just last week in the first Budget Session, the BJP along with the NCP passed a no-confidence motion against Maharashtra Legislative Council chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh and supported NCP candidate Ramraje Nimbalkar.

The NCP has little to lose and Crasto nonchalantly says: “We stand by the commitment made to our national president Sharad Pawar that we will support the BJP. We will give full and unconditional support to the government from outside.”
As for the Shiv Sena, the BJP, through Fadnavis ensured that it is kept on its toes. The Sena was integrated into the government after the controversial vote of confidence. However, since then, the relationship between the allies has been far from cordial. The Sena is being kept out of key decisions and is not consulted even for changes in the city. Time and again, Uddhav Thackeray speaks against Fadnavis and Modi.

Senior BJP leaders say Fadnavis lacks political tact and gets little support from within or outside the party. “As an opposition party, it suits us if both parties fight against each other. Of course, we will work it to our advantage,” says Hussain Dalwai, Congress MP. Sena leaders do not refute the fact that they are exerting pressure on the Fadnavis government with the help of the opposition. When asked about this, Sawant replies: “No comments.”

What is uppermost in people’s minds is whether Fadnavis is capable of taking decisions independently and what the hidden agenda of his government is.


Dalwai criticises Fadnavis for taking direct orders from his bosses to join hands with the NCP, despite public perception. “All decisions are being made at the center. This is evident from the fact that Fadnavis has been asked to ignore the Sena and take help from the NCP. I am confident that had Nitin Gadkari or Gopinath Munde been the chief minister, they would have treated the Sena respectably,” says Dalwai.

Fadnavis has also come under criticism for the 40 percent rise in farmers’ suicides, not pushing for a higher compensation for the affected farmers and the killing of Communist leader, Govind Pansare. This is the second consecutive year that the state has been hit by unseasonal rains and hailstorms. The Sena has not spared Fadnavis, with Uddhav Thackeray being the first to slam him, saying that “except for the CM, nothing has changed”.

Even though Fadnavis has announced a Rs.7,000-crore package for debt-hit farmers, the opposition (Congress and NCP) says this is insufficient. “We were accused of being corrupt even though during our government, we dealt with disasters sensitively and decisively. We would ensure a team from Delhi was sent immediately to the affected areas and the center would allocate timely and sufficient funds,” claims Ajit Pawar, NCP leader. “This insensitive CM has not issued a government resolution and his orders are not being implemented. It shows that he is unable to take any decision independently. The farmers have also been given lower prices for their output and the government is apathetic in its approach,” Pawar says. He was one of the prime targets of Fadnavis, who named him in the irrigation scam.

What is uppermost in people’s minds is whether Fadnavis is capable of taking decisions independently and what the hidden agenda of his government is. “Fadnavis has exposed the hidden agenda of the RSS. It is sad that this government is anti a particular community,” says Sanjay Nirupam.

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