Those who closely followed developments post-election results in March 1995 when the Shiv Sena-BJP combine was all set to assume power will recall that it was not Manohar Joshi but his party colleague and close relative Sudhir Joshi who was the first choice for the CM’s post.
But a call by an influential state politician, backed by a few more by top corporate houses, made all the difference and Sudhir Joshi had to be content with a ministership. Shiv Sainiks appeared stunned with the twists and turns of the political manoeuvre; many of them were close to Sudhir Joshi as he was president of one of the most powerful wings of Shiv Sena, the Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti, founded to ensure jobs for ‘sons of the soil’. But they did not react mainly because any uttering by then party chief Bal Thackeray was taken as the final word.
In any case, power struggles change their tone and tenor as per political developments. Before elections, parties make all-out efforts to win maximum seats, but once the results come in their favour, the united efforts scatter into a scrimmage for cabinet berths and the CM’s chair.
In the last few days the state witnessed intense struggle for top posts, before Devendra Fadnavis took over as CM. But the demands did not spill over, mainly because of the influence of BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, besides the party discipline.
There were a number of aspirants for the CM’s chair on the basis of seniority and dedication, but their clamour was silenced by the clout of Shah and Modi, the two responsible for Fadnavis’s elevation from a shy legislator to CM. There was a strong possibility of a repeat of the 1995 scenario, but such efforts were thwarted with political precision.
Incidentally, a section within NCP would have been immensely happy had Nitin Gadkari been installed as CM. But it did not happen.
Gadkari shares excellent rapport with the Pawars of NCP. A number of proofs are available to substantiate it. He had blessed a near-impossible political alliance between BJP and NCP in Pune to keep the Congress away from power in Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) a few years ago. Ajit Pawar was keen to keep the then local Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi away from controlling PMC. Besides, NCP took Gadkari’s concept of build-operate-transfer ahead with the development of roads and bridges tied to a user-pays toll policy.
People say NCP baffled political pundits by announcing outside support to BJP to form the government. Guesses were that NCP wanted to stall inquiries of its misdeeds by the BJP government. But the party was also curious on who’d take over as CM. Gadkari’s show of strength at Nagpur where 39 MLAs gathered at his residence did not happen impromptu. It was a calculated move to establish his supremacy in state politics.
When he was told about the party’s decision to use his services in Delhi, Gadkari and his supporters essayed to push for Sudhir Mungantiwar. But that too proved futile to make party leadership change its mind. A real blow came when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), known to be BJP’s parent body, decided to stay away from throwing its weight behind two of its members, Gadkari and Fadnavis. The duo unnerved a few more aspirants. Vinod Tawade, who was pushing his name for the top job, withdrew before polling. Pankaja Munde Palve, daughter of the now-deceased Gopinath Munde, was soaring high after her Sangharsh Yatra, but had to control herself after her bold statements on party leaders’ strengths and weaknesses.
Almost all CM aspirants, except senior leader Eknath Khadse, were reined in. Khadse was unhappy with the developments. He was demanding the top post on the basis of experience and seniority. The struggle was on till a few hours before the official announcement of Fadnavis as the CM-to-be.
The days are not stress-free for Fadnavis, who showed his skill as an alert and studious MLA in the opposition benches. He will be under watch not only by the opposition but leaders who were opposing him. Even Shiv Sena will not take BJP’s growth easily. While pushing his pro-development agenda with the support of PM Modi, the new CM faces a big challenge of taking the state out of the current financial mess and a collapsed administration.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day