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Maharashtra politics is headed for new twists and turns

By Aditi Phadnis
July 14, 2022 09:03 IST
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Eknath Shinde knows he can't possibly make all the MLAs loyal to him ministers.
How will they be satisfied?
And to satisfy them, the BJP will have to play ball.

IMAGE: Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, left, with Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Photograph: ANI Photo

Devendra Fadnavis was just four years old when his father, a lifelong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak, was jailed by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency.

Fadnavis used to study at the local Indira Convent. One morning, he told his mother he wouldn't go to school anymore: He didn't want to study in a school named after a woman who had sent his father to prison.

Now, as he settles in his new position as deputy chief minister of a state where he had been CM twice, will he be in the driver's seat or Chief Minister Eknath Shinde?

We know that there is no Constitutional place for a deputy CM.

But in the Uddhav Thackeray-led government, it was his deputy Ajit Pawar who called all the shots -- indeed, this was the primary grievance of the MLAs who rebelled against their leader.

So, it all depends on the man who holds the position. And Fadnavis has the advantage of experience.

The last time he tried to become CM is an episode everyone in the Bharatiya Janata Party would rather forget.

The autumn of 2019 marked a turning point in Maharashtra politics: The 36-day drama in Maharashtra that eventually led to the installation of Fadnavis as chief minister, Ajit Pawar's 'defection' to the BJP and later his 'return', and Fadnavis's resignation.

At the time, Fadnavis's position was tenuous.

Added to this was the role of Home Minister Amit Shah, who was active in Haryana (where also, the election did not deliver the desired result and a coalition had to be cobbled together) but was found missing in action in Maharashtra.

This time, Shah was among those who announced Fadnavis's 'large-heartedness' in accepting a position junior to Shinde.

BJP President J P Nadda has tried similarly to cast Fadnavis as the man who reluctantly became CM.

The argument is disingenuous, but it may work. The thinking in the BJP is: At least we got rid of Uddhav; now let's see how we can write the new script.

There are multiple challenges on the horizon.

Post-Covid recovery of infrastructure creation in Maharashtra is primary.

The worst phase in the state's history was dumped in Thackeray's lap. Shinde -- and Fadnavis -- are tasked with rising out of the crisis.

And then there's the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election.

The BMC election is collateral damage in a legal tussle over 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in all local bodies.

The five-year term of elected BMC corporators ended on March 7 this year.

In its verdict dated March 4, 2021, the Supreme Court struck down the 27 per cent OBC reservation in local bodies in Maharashtra on the grounds that there was no empirical data to justify the reservation.

This extended to the BMC.

The Uddhav government tried to circumvent this by passing a resolution in the assembly that if there was no OBC reservation, there shall be no local body election.

It then tried moving an ordinance. The apex court stayed the ordinance.

On March 3, the Supreme Court refused to accept the interim report of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission recommending 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in local bodies on the grounds that it was prepared without empirical study.

At the moment, the richest municipal body in the world is being run by an administrator, for the first time since 1984.

BJP leader Chandrakant Patil has said that he anticipates the BMC election in October.

And it is evident that the Uddhav-led Sena and the BJP will fight the election separately.

The Shinde-led Sena will, of course, agree to a pact with the BJP.

For reasons of prestige and standing, Fadnavis must win the election for the BJP.

The sniping that the BJP faced from the Sena when the alliance was in power will probably be much lower in pitch.

But the adversaries Fadnavis will have to manage will be many more and wily.

Remember, the Nationalist Congress Party had power in the Uddhav government and has now lost it.

For the BJP, the Shinde-Fadnavis team of tail wagging the dog is a totally new experiment.

The coming days will see responsibilities being allocated and will indicate where the real power lies.

There will be pressure on Shinde and his men to merge with the BJP.

On the other hand, Shinde will be more motivated to break the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena if he can be made to spot the opportunity to claim that he is the real Shiv Sena and the heir to Balasaheb Thackeray's legacy.

Plus, Shinde knows he cannot possibly make all the MLAs loyal to him ministers.

How will they be satisfied? And to satisfy them, the BJP will have to play ball.

Maharashtra politics is headed for new twists and turns.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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