It was just last week when NCP chief and veteran leader Sharad Pawar made a sarcastic remark targeting Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, saying, “Someone who does not understand Mumbai and Maharashtra is asking people to repose faith in his words.” He is not the only one. MNS president Raj Thackeray used to often dismiss Fadnavis as a “Nagpurian with little understanding of Mumbai”. His cousin and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray too tore into Fadnavis after the snapping of the pre-poll alliance. Then there were in-house critics within the BJP who would find faults with the young CM arguing that he might be a “nice man” but does not understand the complex politics of Maharashtra. Another challenger earlier was Pankaja Munde who every three months used to declare that she too was in the chief ministerial race. There were plenty of critics too after the way Fadnavis handled the issue of Karan Johar’s movie starring artistes from Pakistan.
On Thursday, as the verdict for the state civic polls, which were seen as a mini Vidhan Sabha campaign, came in and the BJP dominated the show across urban and semi-urban areas while achieving a breakthrough in the hinterland too, the man who was seen as lacking a mass political base and lacking political skills silenced his critics.
On October 31, 2014, when he took the reins of the Maharshtra government as the CM, Fandavis had promised to take the state ahead through hard work and development. Working 18 to 20 hours a day, which calls for meticulous time management, Fadnavis set in motion major socio-economic reforms which appears to have yielded results in both urban and rural Maharashtra. These include the Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan that has helped 11,500 villages become drought-free out of 25,000 villages besides pushing for digital transformation in tribal malnourished Melghat.
On the infrastructure front, the government worked out infrastructure projects for Rs 1.06 lakh crore of the Rs 10 lakh crore projects planned across a dozen cities in the state. The list of the policies and projects were the highlight of his campaign. He also did not buckle under pressure to grant a loan waiver to farmers opting rather to focus on long term agriculture reforms, which he reckons would ensure sustainable livelihood and development in the rural areas. All that may have helped the BJP to move to pole position in both urban and rural Maharashtra.
The party has done well not just in Mumbai but also in the Congress-NCP dominated Western Maharashtra and Marathwada in not just the urban civic polls but also in the zilla parishads.
The core team of the BJP, which was roped in to evolve new poll strategy and campaign, took a decision to project Fadnavis as the face of the party in Maharashtra. Now, in the last two elections, Fadnavis was their star campaigner.
However, what set this elections apart was the projection of Fadnavis to effectively highlight the five policy reforms that has been taken by the government in the last two years. The entire campaign showing the emergence of a young man making an ardent appeal to the Mumbaikars to repose faith in his work appears to have worked. There was also the use of a three-dimensional hologram of the CM through a mobile app to reach a wider audience on the lines of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat assembly campaign of 2012. It was a political bet which worked.
BJP strategist Shrikant Bharatiya says, “The development vision of Fadnavis coupled with his integrity and clean character helped in taking the BJP to the masses.” The party believes Fadnavis’s projection was an outcome of growing demand within the organisation for his leadership.
A senior RSS functionary said, “On April 11, 2013, when Fandavis became the Maharashtra BJP president, it was evident that he would become the next chief minister. His potential was always known to the core team of the BJP and the RSS.”
Fadnavis, who completed 25 years of his political career Wednesday, said, “I have always maintained that politics cannot be for power and money making. If it is driven on development plank and people, we don’t have to worry about the results.” He, however, dismissed his solo performance. “It was a team work,” he said.