The Fadnavis factor

A peek into the cultural check-in baggage of Maharashtra’s new Chief Minister and man of the moment, Devendra Fadnavis

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ published Curriculum Vitae (CV) provide a poor entry point for understanding the 44-year-old legislator. His lifestyle preference offer richer insights into his making.

Chief Minister Fadnavis being interviewed by a school girl for her project at the Sahyadri guest house on Sunday
Chief Minister Fadnavis being interviewed by a school girl for her project at the Sahyadri guest house on Sunday

Defining aspects of his personality include his rigorous fasting during the Shravan and Navratri months, his preference for mainstream Hindi movies over Marathi theatre, his dislike for cotton clothing and not to forget the Durga Chalisa chant in the car.

Nitin Gadkari and then Maharashtra BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis during Vijay Dashmi function at RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Pic/PTI
Nitin Gadkari and then Maharashtra BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis during Vijay Dashmi function at RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Pic/PTI

The Deshasth Brahmin, raised in Nagpur and reared in the Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh (RSS) echelons, brings with him a distinct ‘eastern Maharashtra’ Vidarbha sensibility.

Nagpurchi famous santri ani ata mukhyamantri
That translates as ‘Nagpur known for oranges and now a Chief Minister.’ The 7,000-plus Nagpurkars who attended his swearing-in ceremony speak of the times to come. The CM’s Nagpur associations will shape his public relations apparatus in Mumbai too.

More than Policha Kuskara on his plate
More than Policha Kuskara on his plate

Manjiri Jawdekar, one of the close family friends who flew from Nagpur for the oath-taking day, feels the new CM’s affability is a Nagpur trait. As the myth goes, Fadnavis attends around 75-odd social and family functions on a given day in Nagpur, never ever turning down any invite.

Kadhi Vada and Gola Bhat have a new stature
Kadhi Vada and Gola Bhat have a new stature

Attending children’s birthday parties is high on his priority list. “Tension nahi lene ka” is his favourite line when he meets well-wishers. Chatting up with near ones is his leisure pursuit, next to watching Hindi films. He has a distinct preference for light entertainment as against art house cinema or Marathi theatre.

If he gets bored in a serious movie, he wreaks sweet revenge by recommending the movie to those who escaped it. Blessed with an excellent memory, he recalls dialogues and taglines from old movies and regales the audience.

All Songs: One tune
True to a Nagpurkar, his Marathi is housed in a Hindi syntax. The Madhya Pradesh-inflicted Marathi grammar adds colour to his public speeches. Hindi film songs play a major role in his cultural make-up.

It is another story that he sings most of the songs in one uniform tune which resembles the RSS motivational anthem. But Fadnavis makes an effort to sing on sundry occasions, particularly the Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja favourite Carvan number.

While wife Amruta sings the main stanzas, Fadnavis is known for his signature Helen-like shout out... Monica Oh my darling. The couple has oft-repeated the Monica act. Fadnavis had rendered Do Lafzon Ki Hai Dil Ki Kahani lyrics from The Great Gambler movie in his own marriage.

The Driver’s Seat
Singing while driving is part of the Fadnavis package. Ever since his motorbike days, he loves to drive his friends to far-off destinations. Once he cajoled a friend into a surprise journey which ended in Cuttack.

The friend was in his casual pyjamas, too embarrassed to realize his entry into the state of Orissa now Odisha. Fadnavis forgets inter-state boundaries when he hits the road, just as he once drove to Jammu and Kashmir and once to Pondicherry.

His life-long pal Shailesh Joglekar says the monthly visit to the pilgrim spot of Shani Shingnapur is a rejuvenation drive for the new state CM.

Sartorial fix
While Fadnavis’ job as the chief minister involves formal cotton clothing, the legislator has so far avoided the typical politician's cape. As friend Amol Kale recalls, “He doesn’t like neta-like jackets-kurtas-suits. Neither does he wear the saffron colour merely to declare his loyalties.

He dislikes white cotton wear, because it is not wrinkle-free; also a people-friendly politician finds it difficult to maintain cotton in a Nagpur climate.” Fadnavis opts for a terrycot mix which can weather temperature extremes. Since branded clothes don't fit him well, a Nagpur tailor does the needful for years.

Food as roots
CM Fadnavis is a foodie to state the least. He holds the capacity to eat one kilo tilgul savouries in one sitting. While his expanded waistline has kept him away from sweets in the post-election glory, the weakness for dark chocolates has remained unaffected.

It is rumoured that his chef Pandit Vishram Mishra may relocate to the official Varsha bungalow, unless the Mumbai staff promises a correspondingly sumptuous jowar bhakri.

Fadnavis is most hooked on dishes like Kadhi Vada, Gola Bhat and Policha Kuskara. The fare, now treated as Varhad region exotica in Mumbai’s culinary fests now stands a high chance of gaining ‘maincourse’ respectability. The Vidarbha food festivals will expectedly honour the CM’s picks.

Mantralaya Diary
Fadnavis is a regular at the yearly Dussehra festivities of the RSS in the Nagpur headquarters, unmistakably seen in the trademark khaki half pant.

He celebrates his birthday at the Kalyaneshwar Mandir by listening to the Sundar Kand of the Ramayana. His pals gather at the temple every year, avoiding an ostentatious celebration. Most feel that these dates will remain sacred even in the coming years.

New kid on the block
The Fadnavis family is a trio, including the five-year-old daughter named Divija. An uncommon choice for a name, it means “a girl born in heaven.” The current popularity ranking of Divija as a baby name is likely to go many notches higher, considering Divija Fadnavis’ political consciousness.

The preschooler has inherited public speaking skills, as evident in the recent election. When a TV channel asked her what she wanted to be, the reply was “I want to become the PM.” Ambition seems the middle name for the Fadnavis family.

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a Mumbai-based cultural chronicler.

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