The Maharashtra chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, faces many challenges but has as many opportunities to make his mark in the state, which is going through a difficult phase – it faces a financial crisis and there is confusion over development planning.
Perceived as a political lightweight, senior BJP leaders in the state had their own reservations about him, saying he had no administrative experience and also felt they had been excluded. However, with his smooth sailing through the recently concluded winter session of the state legislature in Nagpur, he has emerged better-equipped to face the real challenges before his administration.
Even before he was bestowed with the responsibility of leading the most influential states in the country, he had established himself as a BJP legislator who did his homework well and did not hesitate to take on the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) stalwarts on the floor of the House. Several exposes of corruptions in the Congress-NCP government, which helped his party during both, the Lok Sabha and the assembly election campaigns are credited to him.
However, these abilities are not sufficient enough to lead one of the most advanced states in the country, where there are a lot of pulls and pressures the administration must endure. One needs deftness and political acumen to work around sensitive issues, take on the opposition and keep the administration going.
By adopting a non-aggressive and all-inclusive style of functioning, he has succeeded in blunting the resentment of his leadership by a few party seniors. His decisions are arrived at after consultations with those who have a say in the matter and when it comes to political decisions, the core committee of the state BJP is at hand to provide backup.
One of his strongest points is the fact that he has the backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had showered lavish praise on him during the election campaign. The party president Amit Shah too had been very supportive when it comes to decisions regarding the party and selection policies for appointment on government committees and corporations. This support from the party high command in Delhi is invaluable, giving him the confidence to tide over difficulties, though there does not appear to be much scope for disgruntled elements to make trouble on party forums.
Support from the top notwithstanding, ultimately it is he who must win the confidence and support of the rank and file of the party in the state. In fact, he has been taking cues from the Prime Minister and trying to replicate some of his moves back home in trying to run the huge bureaucracy. One of his first decisions was not to disallow private assistants and private secretaries from the Congress-NCP regime, sending most of them back to their parent departments and asking his cabinet ministers to search for new faces to help them in running the administration. However, it has also created a problem, what with the new PAs having to learn the ropes before they can be efficient assistants to their ministers.
Though a section in the Delhi BJP had some reservations about the Shiv Sena joining the government, the CM put his foot down, saying that he would need a stable government to run the administration and create a better climate for the BJP in the state. His hands would have been tied had he to depend on outside support extended by the NCP. The distribution of portfolios and the appointments of guardian ministers for districts in the state was another thorny issue which he was able to resolve with the help from senior colleagues like Vinod Tawde, Sudhir Mungantiwar and Eknath Khadse.
During the winter session, Fadnavis announced a few major decisions, like the Rs 7,000-cr drought relief package for suffering farmers, a routine time-bound programme for the development of Vidarbha and tabled the controversial Kelkar committee report on regional imbalance.
Dealing with the issue of a separate state for Vidarbha is an issue he must cautiously approach; in the same manner, he must decide on the many pending corruption issues related to two important infrastructure areas – irrigation and power. His decision to sanction inquiries into corruption cases against NCP stalwarts has already rattled that party. The issue of reservation for Marathas and Muslims in government jobs and education is another tricky issue; the government has decided to drop reservation for Muslims, while fighting for the Maratha reservation in the courts.
He can establish his leadership with a few bold decisions that will affirm his desire to provide the state with an efficient and clean administration. If the CM can handle political challenges, then he will find opportunities to shape future growth plans for the state with new initiatives. In fact, this was the point emphasised during his poll campaign, where voters were asked to support the BJP so that the state could get most of the benefits from Modi’s development plans.
Power shortage is one of the major factors affecting future growth of the state in industrial sector – the state can attract new projects provided infrastructure is in place and there is no red tape. The state must encourage actual industrial production apart from supporting the service industry to generate more jobs. With farmers’ suicides unabated, there is an urgent need to take a closer look at agriculture and avoid dependence on monsoon.
Having got off to a good start, now is the time to perform and for this, the CM can use the budget session to showcase his government’s vision.
Prakash Bal Joshi