Contrary to general perception that Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, 53, of the BJP is politically marginalised, the fact remains that his clout is very much intact. He has neatly executed the BJP's strategy to split both the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray and the NCP helmed by Sharad Pawar. The script was written by the BJP's central leadership, specially Union Home Minister Amit Shah, but the execution was entrusted with Fadnavis, who did full justice to it.
“Splitting a tightly-knit and cadre-based party like the Shiv Sena was no joke. But Fadnavis worked on the project discreetly for several months with generous inputs from his trusted officers in the state intelligence machinery. The operation was such a closely-guarded secret that Uddhav Thackeray, despite being the chief minister of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, did not have a clue about it,” a source close to Fadnavis said. “The shifting of Shinde and his flock of MLAs first to Surat, then to Guwahati and then back to Mumbai was an elaborate operation which had a shock and awe quality about it,” he added.
The next plan to split the NCP was a relatively easy task because Sharad Pawar was in the know of the development contrary to general perception. Fadnavis himself had disclosed that the earlier decision to form a government with Ajit Pawar was done with the fullest blessing of Pawar Sr; a fact not denied by the latter. With these two new splits, Fadnavis not only pulled down the Uddhav Thackeray government, but also made a mincemeat of the MVA. Today the MVA looks politically emaciated with only the Congress managing to keep its flock intact.
There are reports that Fadnavis may next turn his attention to the Congress, but that may not be needed because the party is already weak and ridden with factionalism and ruling coalition is comfortably placed in the legislative assembly. Even the victory of Siddharamaiah in neighbouring Karnataka has failed to enthuse the Congress rank and file in Maharashtra.
However, two developments gave rise to speculation that Fadnavis is being downsized. The first was when Shinde & Co joined hands with the BJP to replace the MVA government. The general expectation was that Fadnavis will be made the chief minister since the party had a much larger number of MLA vis-a-vis the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and also since he had played a critical role in the engineering the fall of the Thackeray government. However, in a most surprising move the central leadership decided to anoint Shinde as the CM, much to the shock of Fadnavis. The latter was so upset that he declared that he would not join the Shinde government. But a public statement by the BJP president JP Nadda that Fadnavis will indeed be a part of the new government closed the options for the latter. It was explained to Fadnavis that the idea behind promoting Shinde was to use one faction of the Sena to finish off the other faction.
Leaders of the BJP did not want to give the impression that their party was pulverising the Shiv Sena founded by the late Bal Thackeray, who continues to be held in high esteem by the masses even several years after his death.
The second development was when recently, during the allocation of portfolios, important ministries like finance and cooperation were given to the NCP rebels like Ajit Pawar, Dilip Walse-Patil, Chhagan Bhujbal, etc. This was also seen as a setback for Fadnavis. It now turns out that the idea behind rewarding the NCP renegades with good ministries was to give them a level of comfort in the new coalition. The home ministry continues to be with Fadnavis, which gives him a decisive edge over all other ministries.
Fadnavis and his aides are keeping a close watch on the new entrants to the government. Central leaders of the BJP are consulting Fadnavis at every level. Thanks to Fadnavis, the BJP is much better placed in Maharashtra since he has been able to co opt into his party substantial political space earlier occupied by the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray and NCP's Sharad Pawar. “Fadnavis has now set up a machinery at the polling booth level in every district which will ensure not only maximum voter turnout but also channel the flow of votes into the ballot boxes in favour of the BJP. The anti-BJP votes are now badly splintered, which will ensure a high percentage of votes for the BJP,” a party insider observed.