Ending days of suspense, Devendra Fadnavis was on Tuesday elected BJP Legislature Party leader and will be sworn in as first Maharashtra Chief Minister from the party on Friday, propped by NCP from outside.
The 44-year-old fourth term MLA from Nagpur South West seat, with RSS roots and strong backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah, will be only the second Brahmin Chief Minister of the state after estranged ally Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi.
Surmounting competition from several members of the state BJP’s Core Committee, who were vying for the post but were neutralised by the party’s central leadership, Fadnavis was declared elected leader of the Legislature Party by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, observer for the election.
Accompanied by BJP General Secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, state Core Committee members Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde, besides allies RPI leader Ramdas Athawale and RSP’s Mahadev Jankar, Fadnavis later called on Governor C Vidyasagar Rao to stake claim to form the government.
“We gave the Governor a letter seeking opportunity for BJP to form a government. The Governor has asked us to prove majority in 15 days after the swearing in on October 31,” Fadnavis told reporters after meeting Rao.
BJP General Secretary in-charge of Maharashtra J P Nadda said the swearing-in ceremony will be held at 4 PM and that talks were still on with estranged former ally Shiv Sena over forming a coalition government.
Fadnavis’ name for the leader of BJP Legislature Party was proposed by Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly Eknath Khadse and seconded by others who were in the race, including Khadse’s counterpart in the Legislative Council Vinod Tawde, former state BJP Chief Sudhir Mungantiwar and Core Committee member Pankaja Munde Palve.
The resolution for his election was adopted unanimously, Rajnath Singh said after the meeting which lasted little over 20 minutes, preceded by a meeting of the state BJP’s Core Committee.
Fadnavis and other leaders then drove down to Raj Bhavan to formally stake claim for form the government.
As decided by the party earlier, the Governor accepted the suggestion to swear in the new government on October 31.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several of his Cabinet colleagues and Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states will attend the historic ceremony at Wankhede Stadium, a well-known venue for cricket matches.
“A small ministry will be sworn in on October 31,” Nadda told reporters.
Shiv Sena, which had yesterday openly voiced its desire to join a coalition government with BJP, on Tuesday said it will wait for the swearing-in of the new Chief Minister before taking a call on supporting the government.
It also trashed as “false” media reports that it had demanded the post of Deputy Chief Minister and key portfolios as pre-condition for support.
“A lot of false news is being spread in the media that we have demanded the post of Deputy Chief Minister or some specific portfolios in return for our support to BJP. I want the media to stop focusing on baseless rumours. We have not demanded anything yet,” Sena MP and spokesman Sanjay Raut told reporters after meeting party Chief Uddhav Thackeray.
Amid reports of back channel talks still continuing between the two estranged saffron allies and that Sena may join the government when the ministry is expanded, Raut, when asked if his party will support the BJP dispensation, said, “There is no point in saying anything at the moment. We will speak when time comes. For now, please wait till the new CM takes oath on the 31st of this month.”
Raut, while talking to a TV channel sounded conciliatory when he said, “The blood group of BJP and Shiv Sena is the same. We have not placed any pre-condition for joining hands.”
Nadda too indicated that the former allies would reunite, saying, “We want that Sena come with us. It is our desire. A positive result will emerge soon.”
Sharad Pawar’s NCP with 41 MLAs has already offered crucial outside support to BJP and said it will abstain from voting if the new government has to face the eventuality of a trust vote to prove its majority.
Even in the event of 63-member Sena finally deciding to occupy the opposition’s space with Congress, which has 4 MLAs, the new government will have no difficulty sailing through the trust vote.
BJP’s strength in the 288-member Assembly has come down to 121 after the death of its MLA from Mukhed Govind Rathod but has the claimed support of all seven independents and those from some smaller parties. BJP’s pre-poll ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha has one MLA.
In propelling Fadnavis, a Brahmin, to the highest seat of power in a state dominated by Maratha politicians, BJP central leadership repeated what it had done in Haryana, where also the party formed its first government.
Like Fadnavis, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has roots in RSS and is a non-Jat leader in a state long controlled by Jat politicians.
Fadnavis, whom Modi had described as “Nagpur’s gift to the country” at an election rally, has a clean public image and helmed BJP in Maharashtra when it posted impressive performances in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Together with Shiv Sena and Swabhimani Shetkari Paksha, the saffron alliance had swept Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra winning 42 of 48 seats.
Despite its acrimonious split with Sena just ahead of the Assembly election, BJP won 122 seats, up from 46 in 2009, and Fadnavis earned the appreciation of both Modi and Shah for the performance, despite the Prime Minister himself spearheading the campaign blitzkrieg.
Fadnavis, who will be Maharashtra’s 27th Chief Minister and fourth from Vidarbha, thanked Modi, Shah and fellow Nagpur politician and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari for his elevation and said he will strive to provide a transparent government.
“My focus will be to provide a government that people can feel is their own. I will attempt to give a transparent administration,” Fadnavis said after his election.
“This government will follow the path of Shivaji Maharaj and also the Constitution given to us by Dr Ambedkar,” he said.