A day after the BJP caught the tiger by its tail, two new twists took Maharashtra by surprise. First, the rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde hit a jackpot as the state’s Chief Minister. Second, the BJP central leadership announced that Devendra Fadnavis would be the deputy, hours after he said he will ensure the smooth functioning of the government from the outside but not join it.
Within hours, at 7.30 pm, both of them showed camaraderie and took oath for their respective posts at Raj Bhavan, in the presence of Governor BS Koshyari. Shinde later chaired the first cabinet meeting of the new government.
This move was contrary to the earlier claims made by the BJP, which said that with 106 legislators and support of seven independents and one MNS MLA, Fadnavis would become the CM for the third time. Shinde, who claimed support of 38 Shiv Sena MLAs and nine independents, was to be the deputy.
On the new diktat to be the deputy, Fadnavis was said to be sulking but the central leadership rapped him and directed him to take charge as second fiddle.
Sources said the party leadership has clipped Fadnavis’ wings with this move. In other words, he has limited options to assert his authority and consolidate his position both in the party and in the government. They said he won’t have total freedom in decision-making and functioning of the government, as ultimately the CM is supreme. In a government, a deputy CM has no extra powers or constitutional validity and therefore Fadnavis will be one of the ministers, though top in the hierarchy.
The party leadership’s decision has shocked many, while a few Fadnavis baiters are happy as they recalled that it was he who had politically damaged the prospects of his competitors in the BJP, including Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde, to remain at the helm.
The BJP central leadership cleared Shinde’s elevation as the CM after Uddhav Thackeray received an overwhelming support and sympathy following his graceful exit on Wednesday. The party was convinced that it may prove costly if Fadnavis is given the top post as it will further attract wrath from a cross-section of party leaders ahead of the 2024 general elections.
Uddhav, meanwhile, had accused the BJP of bringing Balasaheb Thackeray’s downfall, especially by engineering the rebellion. However, by appointing Shinde, a staunch Shiv Sainik and one who claims to follow Hindutva and thoughts of Balasaheb Thackeray and Anand Dighe, the BJP believes that Uddhav’s narrative won’t work further.
Delinking the Sena from the Thackerays, the BJP will reach out to the voters to project that an ordinary Shiv Sainik can become a chief minister and thereby fulfil the dream of Balasaheb Thackeray, which even his son could not guarantee. The party, thus, shall present itself as the “true inheritor” of Sena’s Hindutva ideology.
Further, the BJP leadership sent a strong signal that the party has left its claim over the CM’s post by giving it to a Shiv Sainik. This conveys that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena may have broken the ties after 2019 assembly elections and joined hands with the “secular” NCP and Congress, but the BJP is eager to continue its relationship with the Sena under Shinde’s leadership on a common and politically important Hindutva cause.
For Fadnavis, it will be a big challenge to take orders from Shinde in running the new government. The Shinde-Fadnavis duo will have a major challenge of fulfilling demands of legislators who were complaining against the MVA government for step motherly treatment.