Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis emerged as the face of BJP during its campaign for civic elections across Maharashtra. In an interview with Indian Express, he speaks on the tie-up with Shiv Sena, possibility of any post-poll alliance and the chances of his party in Mumbai and other civic bodies going to polls Tuesday. Excerpts.
Why did Mumbai polls assume a larger-than-life significance this time, triggering debates from the city to Delhi?
Mumbai is the economic capital, which surely holds appeal across sections and transcends boundaries beyond Maharashtra. For the first time, BJP emerged as a credible alternative to the Shiv Sena, where we pitched our campaign on development plank. In the absence of an emotive plank and the high anti-incumbency factor, Shiv Sena tactically kept its attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and targeted me personally, trying to take the centre stage. Sena’s aggression was an outcome of (its) shaky ground and growing challenge from the BJP.
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How does one justify the ugly war of words between Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis?
At the 71 rallies across the state, only 11 of which was in Mumbai, I never hit Uddhavji below the belt. Whether it is Mumbai or Maharashtra, 80 to 90 per cent of my speech is devoted to development plank and only 10 to 20 per cent to politics. My politics is centred on development and not demolition. My politics is not based on hatred.
You had often said Uddhav and your relationship was founded on love and respect for each other? Where does it stand now?
I don’t mix my politics with personal relationships. As far as my relation with Uddhavji is concerned, it will remain same and cordial irrespective of politics and electoral outcome. I always value every human being.
Is BJP working on a Sena-mukt Mumbai?
We are working on a corruption-free Mumbai and Maharashtra. Nobody can finish any party or person. It is the people who have the power to elect or retire a party or an individual.
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Shiv Sena has put you on “notice”. Is it going to be difficult ahead to run the coalition government (in the state)?
My government is stable and will last full five years’ term. The BJP-Shiv Sena coalition is a public mandate, which they also know cannot be dishonoured.
Shiv Sena’s edge is Mumbai, a fact that Congress-NCP had always reconciled in the past. How do you view this?
Yes, their expectations were BJP should leave Mumbai to Sena. In 2014 assembly elections, BJP got 15 seats and Sena 14 seats in Mumbai. Yet, trying to accommodate their concern, I agreed to a pre-poll formula of 122 seats for Sena and 105 for BJP. But my condition was transparency. This was not acceptable to Sena. How could I compromise on rampant corruption in BMC? I have been receiving complains daily on their poor and corrupt functioning in the BMC. Does it not stir your conscious when public money worth Rs 8,000 crore goes down the drain in name of nullah safai, or Rs 2,500-crore corruption on roads, or crores pocketed in the name of garbage cleaning at dumping grounds?
In case of a fractured mandate, will BJP and Sena go for post-poll alliance?
I am confident of BJP getting close to majority on its own.
Are you open on post-poll alliance or not?
The condition of transparency will remain non-negotiable in a post-poll alliance too. The BJP will not hanker for any position of power or make post a prestige. However, transparency will be our topmost priority to make BMC corruption-free. It is my promise to the people of Mumbai.
‘Trust my word’ was your campaign catchline. Why should Mumbaikars believe you?
I have delivered results in development. It is not a mere poll promise but my pledge to the Mumbaikars. Transformation of Mumbai is now a reality and process has begun with my government bringing mega investments worth Rs 1.06 crore. Mumbai belongs to Mumbaikars.
Your critics accuse you of being an outsider (in Mumbai) from Vidarbha.
On one hand they talk about Samyukta (United) Maharashtra, and on the other hand make such regional discrimination against individuals.
(NCP chief) Sharad Pawar says you don’t even know Mumbai and Maharashtra.
By the time I am of his age, I will know. But whatever little I understand, it is reflected in my work and commitment to the poor people. I know the pulse of the people. I know how to serve the people.
What are the challenges as you fight three rivals — Sena, NCP and Congress — in zilla parishad and municipal corporation polls?
I have campaigned in all 25 zilla parishads and ten municipal corporations, and can state with absolute certainty that lotus will be in full bloom. The BJP’s expansion in every taluka, which was Congress-NCP bastion in Western Maharashtra, will give the organisation a quantum jump.
Whether it is Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Solapur, BJP will make huge gains to establish its leadership in zilla parishad and civic polls. In true sense, the BJP’s pan-Indian image will get boost.
You have emerged as the sole face of BJP in Maharashtra, on the lines of Modi at the Centre.
I don’t subscribe to this theory. I personally believe nobody is above the party. The organisation is the backbone of any government or election and karyakarta its soul. Yes, I have emerged as the face because I happen to be the chief minister of Maharashtra. It was my party’s decision to project me to counter the way Shiv Sena designed its personality-oriented campaign led by Uddhav Thackeray. But let me assure that no matter what post and position I hold, at the heart, I always remain a BJP karyakarta. To me, the title of BJP karyakarta is most sacrosanct.
Do you justify tickets to criminals in the name of elective merit?
If you look at the list of candidates Shiv Sena tops with maximum tickets to criminals. The BJP has not given tickets to any hardcore criminal. I firmly feel there should be total decriminalisation of politics. And people should also ensure those with criminal backgrounds are not elected.
In BJP, there was unrest because of tickets to outsiders?
Almost 89 to 92 per cent candidates are from the BJP. Only 8 to 11 per cent were from outside selected on electoral merit. Now, even when one BJP candidate gets tickets, there are six aspirants who are unhappy. The discontent is more when it is an outsider. But that is shortlived.
Whether it is Shiv Sena, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana or RPI, they all accuse BJP of using the allies and dumping them?
To the contrary, we have given our allies more space and share in power both at the Centre and in the state. Sadabhau Khot of SSS is a minister in my government. Ramdas Athawale is a minister in the Union government. Now, in zilla parishad, SSS wanted to contest alone as did Sena. Each party likes to have its own identity. It is fine.
Will demonetisation cast its shadow on polls?
Across rural and urban areas, there is growing hunger for development among the people where our development plank has struck a positive chord. The people had to face some hardships due to demonetisation for a few months. But Narendra Modiji has explained how it has helped to check corruption, which is accepted by the people.