Twenty-four months after an overwhelming electoral victory, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is looking for that one thing that could give him political immortality in the state. In a chat with The Hindu ’s Satish Nandgaonkar and Alok Deshpande, the technocrat politician looks back at his two years in office, and lays down his plans to make Maharashtra great again
It’s been two years since Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has been in office. Like his boss at the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Fadnavis was elected to office on the promise of development. It hasn’t turned out the way he might have wanted it, and with BJP ally Shiv Sena’s constant needling on various issues, controversies have not escaped him. His latest challenge is the silent uprising of the dominant Maratha caste, to which there seems to be no immediate resolution.
These difficulties have not pulled Mr. Fadnavis back from making further grand promises, though, of glowing development, a bright future and a stable government.
The Hindu spoke with Mr. Fadnavis to understand how he projects the government’s performance in the last two years in sectors ranging from agriculture to infrastructure, his views on the Maratha agitation in the State to ally Shiv Sena’s role in government.
“Battling the State-wide drought in the last two years was the toughest part,” he said. “But we are happy that the State government could give a new water conservation model named ‘Jalyukta Shivar’. Around 4,600 villages are already water-neutral, and in next five years, we aim to raise the number to 20,000. We don’t want to keep farmers dependent on nature’s whims. But there are other battles to fight, too.”
Ae Dil Hai Mushkilrow
Mr. Fadnavis is unwilling to take the blame for what was widely termed as capitulation to the Raj Tahckeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). He said he had assured adequate security for the movie’s release, and stepped in for mediation only after the filmmaker indicated so. “They said the first week is when a film gets its maximum business, and even if the government said it will provide security, moviegoers will feel scared, and it will impact our business,” Mr. Fadnavis said. “The Producers’ Guild and the film fraternity indicated that they are ready to resolve if I mediate so that they don’t have to go to MNS.”
He said he was not ready to spoil the Diwali celebrations of 2,000 policemen. “Mumbai is a vulnerable city, and we would have had to put so much security just for a movie. Our thought process was that if the two parties are willing to arrive at an agreement, all we had to do was mediate.”
He said the Guild on its own said it will pass a resolution to not use Pakistani artistes in future, and to carry a placard paying homage to martyred soldiers. “They also said they would like to contribute to the families of those martyred in the Uri attack. They said they planned to contribute Rs. 1 crore. To that, Raj Thackeray said they should give Rs. 5 crore. I intervened and said it is a good thing if you want to contribute, but there is no compulsion. I told them to pay according to their capacity, and the meeting ended there.”
He added, “For the sake of law and order, we speak to the Hurriyat Conference and to Naxal groups. MNS is just a political party, so what’s wrong if we talk to them.”
The Mumbai Metro network
“A Metro network in Mumbai is the State government’s priority,” Mr. Fadnavis said. “The previous government managed to build 10 km of Metro rail in eight years, while we have initiated projects covering 100 km in the last two years, and we have approvals for up to 150 km.” According to the Chief Minister, Mumbai and its neighbourhood will need 172 km of Metro, and its capacity will be 80 lakh passengers a day compared to the 70 lakh a day on the suburban railway network.
“We plan to integrate all suburban transport systems – suburban trains, Monorail, Metro and BEST buses – by bringing them into a single ticket system. A decision on it will be taken in the next three to four months.”
Failing law and order
Amidst claims of development, the government is often accused of failing to maintain law and order. Mr. Fadnavis, however, claims his government’s performance should be measured on the basis of the conviction rate, which, he said, has gone up from 9 per cent to 52 per cent, and to 32 per cent for serious crimes.
“Maharashtra is the only State to complete the implementation of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), which will connect all State police stations to each other and to a central server,” he said. “This will simplify registration of complaints and sharing of information.”
He added, “A pilot project on e-registration of complaints has begun in Pune, and once the backend integration is complete, it would be extended across the State. This will end public complaints about police stations not taking cognisance of a complaint due to jurisdictions.”
“We came to power in October 2014, and within two months, we took a decision on expanding the CCTV network in Mumbai to enhance its security,” said Mr. Fadnavis. “The first phase went live in 2015, and now the second phase went live recently. CCTV networks will be installed in phases in all key cities in the State, including Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagpur.
With an eye on the 2014 elections, the Cong-NCP government had issued an ordinance granting 16 per cent reservation to the Maratha community, and five per cent for Muslims in government education and jobs. However, the Bombay High Court stayed the ordinance on the ground that the Supreme Court has said total reservation should be less than 50 per cent. The Fadnavis government ignored the demands for reservation from both communities, until the Maratha community began staging massive muk morchas (silent marches) challenging the government.
Forced to take cognisance of the demands – some of the muk morchas had a turnout of more than 20 lakh – the government recently announced a scheme to fund higher education for economically backward communities, which was one of the demands set by the Marathas.
“Historically, 25 per cent of the Maratha community enjoyed power and wealth, but the rest have remained backward,” Mr. Fadnavis said. “The rallies express this anguish. Their built-up resentment is finding expression now.” He said the government has launched the EBC scheme subsidising higher education fees and accommodation for students belonging to families with annual income less than Rs. 6 lakh, and could benefit not just the Maratha but also the Muslim community.
He said the government had also intervened to start the Kopardi rape case trial in a fast track court. “Though Marathas and Dalits are protesting, their protests are not aimed at each other.”
The influential Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) raised a storm when the State government decided to allow farmers to sell directly to consumers. The political backlash was mainly led by the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. “When APMCs were formed,” Mr. Fadnavis said, “They were given a monopoly and that was important then. Now, it has become a nuisance. Farmers are getting more money outside the APMC network, and to force them to go via the APMC will have an adverse effect on their income. We want to make them competitive. Hence, we delinked them and ensured a free market for farmers.”
Mr. Fadnavis’ grand scheme, which he almost wants as his legacy, is the Rs. 34,000-crore Nagpur-Mumbai Prosperity Corridor. “It will take Maharashtra 20 years ahead of all the other States,” he said. “It will integrate 24 districts with Mumbai. It will take just 16 hours for the people of these regions to take their product to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port. This corridor will carry four petroleum pipelines from beneath the highway, for which we have the Centre’s approval.”
The pipelines will run for 800 km and are expected to give a boost to the state’s rural economy. “We are opening up areas on both sides of highway for industrial growth through this gas pipeline,” he said.
Ignoring reservation for Muslims
The Chief Minister said the BJP’s stand is clear that the Constitution does not allow religion-based reservation, and the government would like to work as per the Constitution. “The five per cent reservation given by the Congress-NCP government only meant a quota of 300 seats out of 6,000 government seats,” Mr. Fadnavis said. “But the EBC scheme has opened the door for students to three lakh seats in the private sector. When we made the scheme, it was not only for the Maratha community, but also for Muslims, Christians and sections who cannot afford higher education in private institutions,” he said.
“We have devised a model of mainstreaming Muslims and reducing radicalisation, which has been accepted across the country. It is based on a three-point formula: education, training, and employment. The previous government only paid lip service to minorities for votebank politics, but we are actually doing things for them.”
Sena’s Home Minister demand
One of the disputes between the BJP and the Shiv Sena is the latter’s demand for a full-time Home portfolio, which is currently held by the Chief Minister. “A full-time Home Minister is a political demand,” Mr. Fadnavis said. “In the Congress-NCP government, R.R. Patil and Jayant Patil held independent charge; yet the 26/11 attack and communal riots happened. Earlier Chief Ministers always held the Home portfolio because as per the rules of business, a majority of the home ministry decisions have to be taken by the Chief Minister. So, the Home Minister has to come to the CM for the final decision,” Mr. Fadnavis said.
“We are two different parties,” Mr. Fadnavis said. “And we came together on Hindutva and nationalism. But we have different opinions on all other issues. In the government, we try to take decisions with consensus, and in a majority of cabinet decisions we have no differences. I see no problem with the stability of the government, because the mandate we got was against Cong-NCP, and we both have the responsibility of respecting the mandate. Both of us understand it too. In the BMC also, we will try to forge an alliance.”