Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis: BMC polls a do or die battle for Mumbai and its citizens

Devendra Fadnavis, BJP's face for all campaigns sets the record straight on parting ways with Shiv Sena, his resolve to bring the corrupt to book and Mumbai's development being party's sole poll plank

Breakfast is a hurried bowl of upma garnished with his favourite green peas on board a Cessna Citation. As the jet lands, a chopper lies in wait. The exchange is done quickly, and the helicopter whirrs off to a dusty rally venue where party workers and citizens have gathered. After the rally is through, the chopper takes him back to the Cessna. There are seven more rallies to go. Sometimes, he jumps into a car or walks to reach the venue. He lunches at 5 pm, tucking into in a bowl of salad with portions of nachni roti. That’s a typical day in the life of Chief Devendra Fadnavis, who has been on whistle-stop tours of the state since February 4, to campaign for the ‘mini assembly’ polls in 25 districts and 10 municipal corporations.

CM Fadnavis pays tribute to Chhatrapati Shivaji in Kolhapur. Pic/Uday Deolekar
CM Fadnavis pays tribute to Chhatrapati Shivaji in Kolhapur. Pic/Uday Deolekar

For Fadnavis, who will complete 25 years as an elected representative on February 22, exactly five months before he turns 47, the upcoming polls will be yet another litmus test of his leadership and his government’s performance. In exclusive chats with mid-day, the undisputed BJP leader, whose concerted efforts made the party sweep the civic polls in over 220 towns in the state from November through January, reveals how his fight is for Mumbai’s existence and progress.

Excerpts from interviews, conducted mostly on board his Cessna:

Not many CMs or previous governments made so much effort to beat the Sena on its home turf. Does this mean that you are out to finish the Sena off as a political party?
Not at all. We are not working to wipe out the Sena because no party can do it to any other party. It’s the people who make or break political parties. But I think it’s time the voters threw the Sena out of power for the next five years in Mumbai.

And let me tell you that the BJP doesn’t depend on the BMC for running its affairs or for its survival. My battle [with the Sena] is for the very existence of Mumbai. Perhaps the lure of the BMC is the primary reason that Sena leaders do not leave the comforts of Mumbai and venture out, as we in the BJP do, to ensure the well being of the entire state. For us, it’s a fight for Mumbai’s development and for them it’s all about their own development.

I agree with the opinion that the Congress and the NCP went easy on the Sena in Mumbai. It has always been a fixing of sorts and a compromise to safeguard the Congress and the NCP’s interests in places other than Mumbai. The city’s resources have been bled to death by the corrupt. I want to stop this. We have been consistent in digging out corruption in the BMC and identifying the culprits.

Previous CMs, and major Congress and NCP leaders did not really take on the Thackerays because of the fear of defeat in the metro. Are you not afraid of losing out to the Sena in Mumbai?
The question itself defines a qualitative difference between us and them. That’s the BJP’s strength. We, in the BJP, do not fight for credit. My colleagues are working tirelessly on the agenda of development... I’m not afraid of defeat. The BJP will be a hero even if it finishes at No. 1 or No. 2. My party will grow even further in the city. The results will show how well my government is performing. You have seen the response my rallies in western Maharashtra, the bastion of the Congress-NCP, are getting. I only speak development. I don’t target anyone personally. As for friendly matches with the Sena, my predecessors (Congress) were definitely afraid of defeat in Mumbai. They didn’t want to share the blame. But I’m not like them. I share credit with my team for any success, but I certainly own up to failures.

Leaders in your party have been alleging that the Sena and the Congress have a ‘match-fixing’ deal in Mumbai and elsewhere. Do you endorse their views?
Yes. Very much. The Sena, the Congress and others can stoop to any level because their sole agenda is to ensure our defeat. Sena leaders should understand that their unholy alliance amounts to betraying late Bal Thackeray’s ideology of fighting the evil. We have data to prove the Sena’s sins. In some places like Raigad, the Sena and the Congress have openly joined hands.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar has been quoting from an editorial written ahead of a state government’s fall many years ago. We are told Pawar had played a major role in bringing that government down. You had said immediately after the Sena broke alliance in the BMC that your government would remain stable in any situation. Do you still foresee yourself firmly in the saddle?
I don’t read too much into statements that are made before polling day. Let them say whatever they want to say. Nothing deters me from running my government. I will be the CM for full tenure of the term. As far as Pawar is concerned, his posturing seems to have changed with time. When we made [a minority] government, he said he would not want the state to face yet another election. He said then that he would stand for a political stability of the state. Now, he says this (that the government’s fall is imminent because it’s God’s wish). But I take his take as a political statement made during election time because he also knows well that nobody, in his party or other outfits, wants a mid-term poll.

Sena ministers and MLAs are not in favour of pulling out support to my government. In fact, it’s all political posturing on part of the Sena leadership because sainiks have been asking frequently as to why their party shares power with us if its leadership is so critical of us. Any political shenanigan [by the Sena or the NCP] is bound to affect them more than us.

Are you expecting the Sena to make an emotional appeal ahead of polling day? The Sena has changed its strategy and it’s not harping much on the sons-of-the-soil theory. It has not said anything derogatory about migrants and north Indians? Do you see this as an attempt to eat into your vote bank of ethnic groups and migrants?
I have been saying that the Sena is a party that has created huge wealth under the pretext of fighting for the Marathi manoos. The Marathi people are well aware of the loot and plunder. We are happy that the Sena has set its sights on migrants. This shows they are on the verge of losing their trusted voters.

Call it an emotional appeal or emotional blackmailing. It’s purely a divisive agenda and a reverse polarisation. It will not work this time as the Marathis will also vote for us in big numbers. For, they, too, want development and don’t like people who have made money by misusing the community’s collective might.

You promise to punish the corrupt in the BMC and previous state governments, but we haven’t seen much progress in this regard. The Sena has accused you of corruption when you were Nagpur’s mayor.
The Sena is up to a dirty game; it wants to turn an unwanted controversy into a debate. It diverts attention because it cannot debate development and transparency - the two issues that forced them to break the alliance.

As far as charges against me are concerned, they must see what investigating bureaucrat Nand Lal (then urban development secretary) said in his report. Nand Lal said then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh pressured him into indicting me, but he refused to follow his boss. The accusers should also read things that the courts have said in this case. They should also verify my personal assets. My assets haven’t seen any unnatural growth. My home in Nagpur was built in 1939-40. What has added to my family’s assets is my wife’s income. My life is an open book.

I assure you that all corruption cases will be taken to their logical ends. The corruption in BMC proliferated because of the Sena-Congress-NCP nexus. There are several instances in which the BJP had opposed proposals that smacked of dirty deals. The BJP did not hold any powerful position in the BMC, whereas other parties came together to bulldoze their way into getting lucrative proposals approved in the standing committee.

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