In politics, there are comebacks and there are stunning comebacks. Every stunning comeback is built on hard work, and results in creating leaders with towering stature. Maharashtra has witnessed one such stunning comeback.
Post November 2019, most political pundits had written Devendra Fadnavis off. While he had won the election and people’s verdict, he had lost power in a game of political chess. The short-lived saga with Ajit Pawar, too, had not ended well. In the next few months, it looked all gloom and doom as the Uddhav Thackeray government strengthened itself. But, the real story was unfolding in the background. Fadnavis had learnt from the events very quickly. He was now ready to don the mantle of an opposition leader. As anti-CAA and pro-CAA rallies took part in Mumbai, Fadnavis made a fiery speech at Gowalia Tank. While supporting the CAA, he made a speech which was high on Hindutva and energized both the party and supporters. The year 2020 started with the Covid-19 crisis. Like all other parts of society, politics, too, was changing. In the initial weeks of the Covid-19 crisis in Maharashtra, the PR driven actions of the MVA government were creating an illusion of control. But Fadnavis soon sensed the reality behind the illusion. He quickly hit the ground. Under his leadership, the BJP cadre involved itself in relief and support of Covid-19 affected masses. Fadnavis personally got involved in distribution of ration, PPE kits, medical supplies and opening up of new Covid centres across the state.
The stark contrast of the CM sitting at home while Fadnavis was travelling across the state to help the people was much evident. This also helped in energizing the BJP rank and file across the state. Apart from Covid, Maharashtra saw many other crisis, including twin cyclones on the western coast and floods in many districts. Fadnavis was always among the first to reach affected areas. At times, he was ensuring help for the people which ideally was the CM’s responsibility.
Slowly, as the sheen of aura around the MVA was wearing off, Fadnavis was raising issues which affected the common man. Be it farmer distress or problems of workers or plight of students or problems faced by small traders during Covid or women’s safety, Fadnavis used the first Assembly session (after the Covid crisis started) to corner the government and seek accountability. People’s problems had found a powerful voice in the form of Fadnavis.
A turning point in this period was when Fadnavis exposed the MVA during Antilla bomb scare incident. The intelligent lawyer in him with an eye for detail exposed the murky dealings of the MVA, which resulted in resignation and arrest of then Home minister Anil Deshmukh. A key observation was that while he was no more the CM, he still had the respect amongst the IAS & IPS lobby and the government departments.
Fadnavis was attacking and exposing the MVA on the ground as well as in the Assembly. A common joke in Maharashtra was that whenever the Assembly session is convened, Covid cases rise because the MVA government wanted to avoid or curtail the Assembly sessions due to the fear of Fadnavis. For the common people in the state, they had not seen their CM moving out of his house, but they had seen Fadnavis travel to each and every corner of the state. In the last few months, the people of Maharashtra have discovered the brilliant oratory of Fadnavis. While he has always been a good orator, now, his oratory had reached greater heights. He could easily bundle development and Hindutva while exposing Uddhav Thackeray’s failure on both fronts.
Fadnavis had shown his electoral capabilities twice in Maharashtra (2014 & 2019) and later in Bihar (2020) and Goa (2022). But there was still one area where he had to prove he was the best. This was the area of political management in which Sharad Pawar has been acclaimed for too long. Fadnavis got his chance during the June 2021 Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishad elections. During the Rajya Sabha, he not only ensured victory for the third BJP candidate, but also ensured BJP got 17 first preference votes additional to BJP seats. The game of arithmetic that he played was brilliant enough to checkmate even Sharad Pawar. During the Vidhan Parishad elections, he ensured that BJP’s fifth candidate also won and this time, the additional number of first preference votes rose to 28. In two elections, within a span of 10 days, Fadnavis had not only outwitted Sharad Pawar twice, but also widened the cracks within the MVA.
Uddhav Thackeray resigned as CM ahead of a floor test on Wednesday and, springing a surprise, Fadnavis on Thursday announced that rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde will be the next Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Fadnavis’ announcement defied expectations that he would return as Chief Minister with the support of the Shinde faction.
However, Fadnavis’ journey from “one amongst equals” to “the tallest leader in the state” has reached a historical stage. Very rarely in Maharashtra politics have we seen a leader who combines administrative skills with oratory, political acumen, grassroot connect and a clean image. Another aspect which differentiates Devendra Fadnavis is his acceptance across all regions of Maharashtra and among all communities. He is the only pan Maharashtra leader since late Yashwant Rao Chavan.
The author is the in-charge of Social Media Cell, BJP Maharashtra, and member of the State Executive.
Though Fadnavis has announced that Eknath Shinde will be the next CM, Fadnavis’ journey from ‘one amongst equals’ to ‘the tallest leader in the state’ has reached a historical stage. Very rarely in Maharashtra politics have we seen a leader who combines administrative skills with oratory, political acumen, grassroot connect and a clean image. Another aspect which differentiates Devendra Fadnavis is his acceptance across all regions of Maharashtra and among all communities. He is the only pan Maharashtra leader since late Yashwant Rao Chavan.