From RSS poster boy to Maharashtra’s top post

Devendra Fadnavis was chosen as Maharashtra's chief ministerial candidate by the BJP Legislature Party.

Devendra Fadnavis was chosen as Maharashtra's chief ministerial candidate by the BJP Legislature Party.  

The rise of the former mayor from Nagpur has been nothing short of dramatic.

If there was one man who stood out in the scramble for the Chief Minister’s post in the BJP, it was ironically the one who made it. As his rivals made a public spectacle of their ambitions, the party’s State unit chief Devendra Fadnavis merely said, “The party will decide.”

The 44-year-old former Mayor of Nagpur, home to the RSS headquarters, knows that tact and self-control go a long way in politics.

Mr. Fadnavis’ political graph is nothing short of dramatic. The Law graduate, who worked closely with the party’s youth wing, became a corporator in 1992. Within five years, at the age of just 27, he became the youngest Mayor of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation. This was no mean feat given Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s territorial control of the BJP in this region. It was followed by an unbroken four-term stint as Nagpur MLA and now the top post.

The Brahmin leader’s RSS pedigree may have worked in his favour when it came to his party’s choice as the BJP’s first Chief Minister for Maharashtra. His father Gangadharrao Gadgil was a senior Jan Sangh leader and later a BJP MLC. His aunt Shobhatai Fadnavis was a Cabinet Minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government. Mr. Fadnavis himself cut his political teeth in the BJP’s youth wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

“Devendra’s father was his political guru. He wanted to enter politics from a very young age. He was just six when his father was arrested during the Emergency. That made an impact on him,” says Ms. Shobhatai Fadnavis.

However, Mr. Fadnavis did not fall back on his roots but soon distinguished himself as an aggressive and well-informed legislator. Armed with documents, he took the lead in targeting the Congress-NCP government on a host of issues including the Adarsh and irrigation scams.

“He is able to grasp complex issues and he is uncompromising when he takes them up. But he doesn’t make it personal,” says senior journalist Kumud Chaware.

His dexterity in negotiating the party’s power games has held Mr. Fadnavis in good stead. As pressure from the Gadkari camp grew, he allied himself with the Union Minister’s rival, the late Gopinath Munde. It was the latter’s support which catapulted Mr. Fadnavis to the post of State BJP president, edging out Gadkari loyalist Sudhir Mungantiwar. “But Mr. Fadnavis belongs to no camp,” points out Ms. Chaware.

His clean image and simple lifestyle have endeared him to the party leadership.

“He has retained the values of his RSS background. He used to cycle to school. His first vehicle was a second-hand Bullet. When in Mumbai, he used the MLAs’ hostel,” says journalist Yadunath Joshi, who went to college with him.

He lives in a modest bungalow in Nagpur with his mother, wife Amruta who works at Axis Bank, and young daughter Divija.

A self-confessed foodie, Mr. Fadnavis faced a major weight problem a few years ago. But he managed to get it under control and even modelled for a clothes brand. “He did a brief stint of modelling for a friend,” says Mr. Joshi. A regular on Twitter and Facebook, Mr. Fadnavis fits into the party’s outreach to the youth.

However, what Mr. Fadnavis lacks is experience. His political life has been restricted to Vidarbha and he lacks pan-Maharashtra exposure. His strong support for separate statehood for Vidarbha makes him vulnerable if the demand were to gain momentum.

Although he has been a Mayor, he has little experience in running a government. Handling independents and future allies also requires seasoned negotiating skills. But Mr. Fadnavis’ immediate challenge will be to win over his rivals — CM hopefuls — within the BJP.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 6:52:04 AM |

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