At four, Fadnavis wants even more
The CM steps into his fifth year in office shouldering the task of winning next polls
Before Devendra Fadnavis, only two others could spend four consecutive years in the chief minister's office. The BJP's first ever CM seems to be sitting firmly in the seat of power as he reaches an individual milestone, and also prepares his party in Maharashtra to get yet another term in the Centre and state.
The heat is on as the general elections are approaching. The opposition parties have begun taking up several issues related to the Narendra Modi and Fadnavis governments, which according to them are a big failure in terms of delivering promises and taking policy decisions. They want the voters to throw BJP out of power.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the opposition is banking on the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where it sees BJP fading out. Of these, MP and Chhattisgarh share their borders with Maharashtra and naturally the opposition thinks that if they manage to get the anti-BJP wave working there, it might influence voters in Maharashtra. But the BJP doesn't agree and says if this logic applied, then it could have beaten the Congress-NCP in Maharashtra when the BJP had won the two neighbouring states more than a decade ago.
Major role as CM
This is where Fadnavis comes into picture to play an even bigger role in the fifth year of his office. With a little time at hand and so much to do, to confront the opposition and woo voters, he is very confident that the BJP will come to power in Maharashtra yet again, in any given political equation. This means the BJP in the polls with or without Shiv Sena (he is sure of bonding with the Uddhav Thackeray-led party). The CM's confidence stems from his party's great performance as a government and a good show in the local self-government polls in the past four years. Subsequent surveys favour the party's second consecutive victory, say BJP insiders, with a suggestion that some poll candidates may have to be replaced next year.
Historically, it has been some scam or intra-party politics that has ousted a CM before he could complete the full term. Some of these leaders bounced back to the top office, but not all could escape a blot or two on their image. In the case of Fadnavis, he has remained clean so far, even as his cabinet colleagues continue to be caught up in corruption allegations. He has protected those who he could control, but ensured the ouster of the one who was likely to be a threat. Yet the real test lies ahead as he is expected to fight the BJP's way back to power in the coming year.
His pet project Jalyukta Shivar (local-level water conservation scheme) that Fadnavis says is his best achievement so far, now faces corruption charges. Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant says that PM Modi, speaking in Shirdi on October 19, said that 16,000 villages in Maharashtra have become drought-free thanks to the Jalyukta Shivar scheme. But then how come the state government has declared 180 tehsils as having drought-like conditions, and most of these 'drought-free' villages fall in these tehsils?
The allegations are being repeated at public rallies being held in rural areas, where the BJP is expected to come across anti-government sentiments. And it is where the government is falling short of building trust among the peasants and rural population. Repeated fiascos in farm loan /waiver scheme and the outcry the debt-ridden farmers had raised actually started affecting the BJP-peasant relationship.
Now a drought-like situation in rural parts has compounded the BJP's problems in the election year. As it happens in every drought-like situation, whatever bigger and effective measures the government takes, can reach people only when the administrative pyramid works selflessly. So getting the money and mitigating the drought without facing any corruption allegations will be another challenge for Fadnavis.
Maharashtra politics has always challenged a popular saying that 'it is a progressive state'. Claims of progression could be true to a larger extent in sectors like industry, business, service, education and infrastructure, but fall flat when it comes to caste and communal politics. Dominant castes decide constituency-wise politics that in turn leads to the dominance of caste groups in the government. In 2014, the BJP took a bold step by putting a Brahmin (the caste has a negligible count in state's population) in the CM's chair. Fadnavis has been subjected to crass criticism in public and on social media because of his caste.
In caste politics, what matters most to political parties, more importantly to the BJP, is the Maratha community that has been seeking reservation in jobs and education. Few other significant caste groups have been demanding the same. In Maharashtra, castes will polarise the voters more than religions in the forthcoming polls.
Considering his love for data-analytics and understanding of each district that he has tried to connect with in the four years, Fadnavis seems to have prepared to combine the agenda of development with all else that needs to be designed behind the scene. His biggest achievement would be to get the numbers required in the Assembly, and before that it would sending a sizable share (both BJP and Sena) to Lok Sabha.
Fadnavis argues that his four years have been more fruitful (to the people) than the Congress-NCP's 15 years. This highlights a baseline for Fadnavis and BJP's campaign in the election year.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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