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Fadnavis@1: Restless, insecure, leader

By Neeta Kolhatkar
October 26, 2015 14:43 IST
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Devendra Fadnavis with Narendra ModiDevendra Fadnavis -- who completes a year as Maharashtra's chief minister this weekend -- knows his rivals in the party want to seize every opportunity to pull him down, says Neeta Kolhatkar.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis completes one year of his term this weekend and by political standards it has been pretty low key.

Most believe the first time chief minister has been given an agenda by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah and Fadnavis is following it to the last bit.

Fadnavis knows his terrain is rather rough. His immediate rivals are in his party, many who want to be chief minister but lost out for one reason -- non-proximity to Modi. They remain hungry for power and want to seize every opportunity to pull down Fadnavis.

If this is not enough, the Shiv Sena is waiting on the sidelines, raring to jump at every opportunity to embarrass the government, in which it is in power with the BJP. In all, it hints at a messy political game being played out.

As for the administration, Fadnavis wants to ensure there are no coteries within the government. The chief minister discourages lobbying and networking. There are two aspects that on closer scrutiny tell you that Fadnavis lacks the grassroots connect, which also reflects his lack of man management.

Right now he seems fixated with the idea of transferring bureaucrats. What Fadnavis and many politicians forget is that they are elected to office and are not permanent unlike the bureaucracy. Two names always mentioned in Maharashtra as politicians who knew how to get the bureaucracy to work efficiently are Sharad Pawar and the late Vilasrao Deshmukh.

Last month, Fadnavis was embroiled in the controversy of transfers. To begin with, he unceremoniously shunted out Rakesh Maria, whose term as Mumbai police commissioner was to end by September, and brought in Ahmed Javed. Other officers were transferred recently. These sudden transfers indicate a restless and insecure leader than a man in control.

Fadnavis' actions may result in a bureaucracy that would go by the rule book and let the politicians take the flak.

News reports mentioned that Fadnavis has been desperately trying to replicate the Gujarat model in Maharashtra. He even issued a circular asking bureaucrats not to speak to the media or brief journalists off the record. But this is Maharashtra. Things here have been different and the bureaucracy cannot be cowed down. Moreover, the media gets belligerent when its powers are sought to be limited.

Fadnavis should know the same media went from being rather soft on the Congress to being favourable to the BJP. The media can easily turn against Fadnavis if he is seen to be anti-media or seen to be getting autocratic.

The criticism he faced on the Maria issue is an example. The police commissioner's ouster was a decision forced on the chief minister by the Centre. After the public outrage he sent a message from Tokyo that Maria as director general of the state home guard could investigate the Sheena Bora murder case. This showed his immaturity and lack of understanding of the bureaucracy and procedure.

Most bureaucrats seem to be keeping a low profile. Those who don't seem too obviously anti-BJP are not touched, while others are not favoured. Some close to the BJP say that bureaucrats are kept on their toes. I have observed Maharashtra's babus for 25 years and they are most likely to surprise the government. Some form coteries to try and trip those seen as close to the current government.

A few bureaucrats were given the task of drawing up a policy on smart cities, a pet Fadnavis topic. He wants to ensure that he is the first CM to issue such a policy.

The state cabinet made certain points with Fadnavis' notings. Apparently, two bureaucrats tweaked certain sections and the final draft presented took the CM by surprise. The CM withdrew the draft and created one he wanted and that was eventually passed by the cabinet.

The builders lobby seems most upset with the Fadnavis government. The noises the BJP made against corruption before the assembly election have just remained that. Noise. Many complain they are compelled to cough up more than they did during the previous government. That doesn't bode good for the Fadnavis government and obviously the ultimate responsibility is the chief minister's.

Fadnavis cannot escape the criticism that he is a micromanager rather than someone who looks at overall supervision of the state. That is where the combination of experience and raw talent could have worked. For this, Fadnavis would need to rely on and trust some senior, experienced, BJP or Shiv Sena ministers, but that is the biggest cause of his problems.

Hence, one saw the CM suddenly announcing that the state would levy 'drought tax' without admitting that Maharashtra faces a severe drought (Nearly 31 per cent of villages in Maharashtra are drought hit). He put the government on the back foot yet again, as the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena questioned the government's intentions.

Some lessons are harsh and will get worse if Fadnavis takes on the bureaucracy instead of taking it along.

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