Updated: May 4, 2022 9:08:54 am
As Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis was the mild-mannered politician and family man whose politics was focused on development. Mid-way through his first stint as Leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra, Fadnavis is the face of the BJP aggression as it goes toe to toe with former ally Shiv Sena on Hindutva.
Ahead of the prestigious BMC polls, which are dominated by the Shiv Sena and where the BJP is trying to prove a point, the tone on both sides has got shriller. On May 1, Fadnavis countered the Sena’s claims regarding the Babri Masjid demolition by declaring that he had been there to see the mosque razed, and that he spent time in prison as a ‘kar sevak’ for temple construction. He saw no Sena person there that day, he declared.
This head-on attack was typical of Fadnavis’s transformation in the Opposition after the bitter loss in the 2019 Assembly elections. The BJP felt cheated of power after the Sena changed sides to the Congress and NCP, and one of the most potent weapons it has to keep the Uddhav Thackeray-led party off balance is question its credentials on Hindutva given the new company it keeps.
Fadnavis, whose development politics was once said to have brought him to the notice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and made him a rising star, has enthusiastically taken on the mantle.
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Talking about his time as CM, BJP general secretary Shrikant Bharatiya says: “Fadnavis embarked on Mission Maharashtra. Bold reforms across core sectors were the fruit of his hard work.”
However, others close to Fadnavis point out that he never compromised on Hindutva, and that it would be wrong to classify his statements now as a “change”. On April 3, 2016, for example, while addressing a rally at Nashik, Fadnavis had attacked those who objected to the chanting of Bharat Mata Ki Jai. The CM at the time, he said this “undermined the real spirit of patriotism”.
It was also in his government that the provisions against beef slaughter were tightened in the state.
Some party leaders say the lessons of the 2019 game of thrones may have hardened Fadnavis stand. The slipping of power from his hands after the Sena changed sides had emboldened his rivals in the party, and put pressure on the central leadership to change the young, non-Maratha leader it had entrusted Maharashtra with.
Once he assumed the role of Leader of the Opposition, Fadnavis decided to go about regaining the confidence of the cadre. In the last two-and-a-half years, he has toured entire Maharashtra thrice and demonstrated to party workers that he would lead from the front on issues.
A senior functionary commended Fadnavis for asserting his leadership in the organisation, but added that the challenges before him are plenty. “The first litmus test will be the BMC polls. These will be followed by a series of local body and zilla parishad elections,” he said.
The BJP also realises that taking on the might of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress combine would not be easy. Hence the ratcheting up of the tenor against the Sena, which has shown some signs of nervousness at being targeted on its Hindutva flank.
Senior BJP vice-president Madhav Bhandari says the Sena has lost the right to call itself the champions of Hindutva. “If we look at the last two-and-a-half years, the Sena has compromised Hindutva to remain in power. From taking a stand on Veer Savarkar to banning loudspeakers, they are non-committal.”
On the loudspeaker issue, the BJP is seen as having co-opted in its fight the MNS, the Sena’s bete noire. Its leader Raj Thackeray sees himself as the rightful heir of Bal Thackeray’s brand of muscular politics, and hence poses a direct challenge to Uddhav.
The May 1 rally where Fadnavis spoke of his Babri connection was almost held simultaneously with the MNS’s Aurangabad public meeting where Raj warned that “anything could happen” after Eid if action was not taken on loudspeakers for azaan. Fadnavis thus ensured that Raj Thackeray was not the only one who made news with his words that day.
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