Demotion of former Maharashtra Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis in the new State government has reaffirmed the supremacy of New Delhi over Mumbai, as Mr. Fadnavis is being made to follow the orders of Central leadership.
On the other hand, promoting Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde as Maharashtra’s Chief Minister at the expense of Mr. Fadnavis is not only an attempt by the Central leadership of the party to detach emotionally charged Sena worker from Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, but also to create a Maratha leadership in the State under the Hindutva banner.
The surprise announcement by the former Maharashtra Chief Minister that Mr. Shinde, and not he himself, would be taking oath as the next Chief Minister was a move that quite obviously came from Delhi and owed more than a little to the future of the Shiv Sena and a bid to appropriate at least part of the legacy of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray.
According to sources in Delhi, even after government formation, there were apprehensions over the future of the new government, with the Shiv Sena under former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray girding up to establish his claim over the party. “This means that the matter will go to the Election Commission. Appointment of Shinde as Chief Minister would give strength to the claim that his was the real Shiv Sena, and that the BJP was supportive of the real thing and not the collaborative Shiv Sena that tied up with the party’s rivals, Congress and NCP, just to get the Chief Minister’s chair,” said a senior leader in Delhi. “Also with Shinde as Chief Minister, he will be as interested as the BJP in the stability of this formation,” added the source.
BJP’s move to promote Mr. Shinde, instead of Mr. Fadnavis, was also out of a need to curtail the sympathy factor for Mr. Thackeray, following his emotional speech while resigning from the CM’s post. “With Shinde at the helm, he will not only consolidate his group of supporting MLAs, but will ensure that it becomes the original legislative group of the Sena. BJP’s plan to weaken the Thackeray-led faction will be more effective,” said a Sena leader affiliated to Thackeray camp.
Mr. Shinde, a Maratha who is originally from western Maharashtra’s Satara district, becomes the fourth Chief Minister from this area. He, with the Hindutva banner, will be the key to BJP’s search to counter the Maratha dominated politics of Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP. Mr. Shinde has been claiming that he revolted against the Thackerays to bring the Sena back to the Hindutva fold. When asked about these claims, Mr. Pawar said such excuses were not to be taken seriously.
If the choice of Mr. Shinde as the face of new State government had twists, Mr. Fadnavis’s demotion as Deputy CM had many more. The BJP leader, at a press conference, first said that he would not be a part of the State government. But a very public appeal made by BJP president J.P. Nadda changed the scenario in a few hours.
What happened behind the scenes for such public appeal to be made by Mr. Nadda? According to sources in New Delhi, it was only on Thursday morning that Mr. Fadnavis was told that Mr. Shinde would be the new Chief Minister, and that Mr. Fadnavis would have to make the announcement himself. Mr. Fadnavis was also informed that he too would have to be a part of the government, as per the wishes of the party high command, despite having served as Chief Minister of the State in the past, and the deputy chief ministership being a demotion.
The political reasons for Mr. Shinde being made Chief Minister were very clear — drawing a line between the rebel sena as the “real Shiv Sena” and Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena as a “compromised Shiv Sena” that allied with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, parties against whom the Sena had fought all along, only for the Chief Minister’s chair. What Mr. Fadnavis did not agree to was serving in a diminished capacity. All efforts by BJP general secretary C.T. Ravi to persuade him failed.
At the afternoon press conference in Mumbai, Mr. Fadnavis announced that Mr. Shinde would be the Chief Minister and he himself would be outside the government. Alarm bells rang in Delhi, and Mr. Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah called up Mr. Fadnavis, who still remained reluctant.
At this point, in an unprecedented move, Mr. Nadda gave a suo motu statement to newswire ANI that he had appealed to Mr Fadnavis to take oath as Deputy Chief Minister. Soon after, Mr. Shah tweeted that Mr. Fadnavis had agreed.
Plainly, Mr. Fadnavis was being put in a position where if he refused such a public appeal, he would be defying party discipline. Whatever the setback he received on Thursday, for a future career in the BJP he would have to fall in line. On Thursday evening, by taking oath, that is what he did.