And it happened Thursday night when the BJP decided to step aside for rebel leader Shiv Sena, Eknath flay, 58, behind the wheel. Fadnavis announced he will not be part of the government only to be ordered by the BJP leadership to take the oath as deputy CM.
In a day of dramatic turns, Shinde, who led a massive coup in the Sena, was sworn in as prime minister after claiming to form the government with the BJP and 51-year-old Fadnavis as his deputy.
The decision left many intrigued and confused. Maharashtra is the second state after Bihar where the BJP has ceded the post of chief minister to a partner, despite having more MLAs. But this is not an exact parallel. In Bihar, the BJP contested the 2020 polls by projecting Nitish Kumar as their CM nominee, sticking to their original pick despite significantly outperforming him.
In contrast, BJP has a popular face in Fadnavis. He was believed to have done well as a CM – something that was a factor in the BJP-Sena alliance’s victory in the 2019 polls. His party refused to sacrifice his claim when Uddhav demanded the CMO as a condition for the Hindutva combination to continue.
Fadnavis has recently basked in the glow of back-to-back victories in the polls for Rajya Sabha and the state Legislative Council, and the skillful execution of the moves by Union Home Secretary Amit Shah to restore the supremacy of Hindutva politics.
Even as his supporters planned grand celebrations of his prospective appointment as CM, Fadnavis dropped a bombshell at the BJP’s senior core committee meeting at his residence that afternoon, saying that Shinde, not him, would be the CM and that he himself would not be attending Government. The core committee meeting was attended by BJP President Chandrakant Patil, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Ashish Shelar and Girish Mahajan and took place a few hours before Fadnavi’s media briefing following his meeting with Governor BS Koshyari.
But then Fadnavis finally took over the post of Dy CM. The BJP leadership expects him to be able to oversee Shinde’s activities. “It was believed that if Fadnavis is not made Dy CM, it would result in a completely free hand for Shinde,” said a senior leader.
But sources said the “surprise” may have been in the works all along as the BJP planned to pursue more significant political goals in the state, which is home to the country’s financial capital and has 48 Lok Sabha members.
Reportedly, ever since BJP leaders impeached him for overthrowing the MVA government, Shinde had made it a condition that he would draw up an action plan provided he was appointed CM. But it was felt that if Shinde, with 40 MPs, were appointed CM, it would anger the BJP leaders led by Fadnavis. Eventually, however, the proposal to anoint Shinde as CM was accepted. “There is no information as to whether Fadnavis knew about the proposal. It seems he was told that a few days ago, so he made the announcement on Thursday,” the leader said.
Interestingly, when Fadnavis was CM from 2014 to 2019, he had opposed the creation of a deputy CM post, saying it created another center of power that was not healthy for the administration.
According to sources, BJP has been trying to settle scores with Sena and NCP chief Sharad Pawar by getting Fadnavis to give way to Shinde, a Maratha who Saffron sources claim incited Uddhav to defect by using his known connections to Sena’s controversial deputy took advantage Sanjay Raut.
Although the BJP has emerged as the largest political force at the expense of Pawar, Congress and Sena, it sees Pawar’s influence over the Marathas of western Maharashtra as a challenge. She has capitalized on PM Narendra Modi’s popularity and gained a foothold in the powerful social community, but wants to build on that ahead of the 2024 election. Fadnavis’ Brahmanic background could have been a handicap as Pawar camp is known for reviving the memory of Peshwa Raj to gather Marathas and others. Originally from Satara in western Maharashtra, Shinde is said to be better equipped to lead the battle.
His uprising will also help the BJP’s plan to invade the Hindutva constituency of Sena. Although many of these Hindutva supporters were known to be angered at how Uddhav was allowing NCP to control the government and grow at the expense of Sena, the BJP leadership was concerned that the former CM might regain their sympathy by she played a victim of intrigue. Having a Sainik pedigree as a CM will help mitigate the charges. As CM, Shinde will aggressively court “shakha pramukhs” and “vibhag pramukhs” who felt marginalized even when Uddhav was in Mantralaya and uncomfortable with the watering down of the ideological plank.
The BMC polls this year would show if BJP got it right.
—With contributions by Prafulla Marpakwar