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Road to 2024 | In saga Maharashtra and Devendra Fadnavis, the many messages by BJP

The way the political drama unravelled on the last day – June 30 – with the announcement of both Shinde as Chief Minister and Devendra Fadnavis as Deputy CM, was undoubtedly unexpected for not just the BJP support base but also RSS cadre.

New Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde assumes charge of the office, at Mantralaya in Mumbai. (PTI/File)

With the recent political developments in Maharashtra, culminating in the installation of the Eknath Shinde-led government of BJP MLAs and Shiv Sena rebels, the BJP has again sent several messages intended at the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The way the political drama unravelled on the last day – June 30 – with the announcement of both Shinde as Chief Minister and Devendra Fadnavis as Deputy CM, was undoubtedly unexpected for not just the BJP support base but also RSS cadre. The consensus was that Fadnavis, having been denied the post in November 2019 and seen as the prime mover behind the Sena coup, would finally receive what he saw as his due and become CM again. Not only did the national leadership make him step aside for Shinde, Fadnavis was publicly made to stand down on his decision to not join the government and accept the Deputy CM post.

While a section of the BJP was angry over the “humiliation” Fadnavis was subjected to, with some even expressing it publicly, the party was working to a plan.

A part of it is a rethink on the BJP strategy to choose leaders from non-dominant castes in states as CM – a move in place since the 2014 win at the Centre, that had the backing of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Hence, Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Raghubar Das in Jharkhand, from outside the Jat, Maratha and tribal communities that dominate the states, respectively. With Modi at the peak of his popularity, the message was that the party need not depend on trite formulas like dominant castes.

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However, despite expanding its membership and reach, the BJP had gone on to lose power in Maharashtra and Jharkhand in 2019, and could form a government in Haryana only with the help of the Jannayak Janata Party.

Since last year, the BJP has done a change of tack. If in Uttarakhand, the party chose ‘Thakur’ Pushkar Singh Dhami as CM, in Karnataka, it replaced B S Yeddiyurappa but chose another Lingayat, Basavaraj Bommai, and in Gujarat, it installed a Patidar, Bhupendra Patel – all three members of the dominant and most influential communities in their respective states.

In an interview with The Indian Express earlier, Shah had admitted that there had been “some setbacks” in the “experiment” of breaking “caste barriers”, but maintained that he would not call it a failure.

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This time, not taking chances, a decision was taken to make a Maratha a CM, and hence Shinde – particularly as the BJP-Shinde faction government replaced the government of Uddhav Thackeray, who claims the legacy of Bal Thackeray.

The second aim of the BJP in allowing Shinde to be CM was to send a message to potential allies. A senior BJP leader said: “As we try to expand to new regions, mainly in the south, it is important for the leadership to signal regional and smaller parties that the BJP is ready to give up the top post if you stand by us.”

It also helps the BJP counter the charge of centralising power if it has strong units with emboldened leaders. Seen as keen on leaving a legacy of a robust organisation, Modi has been urging the BJP not to hesitate to make “sacrifices” to strengthen the party in states. His appeal to BJP leaders to reach out to communities other than Hindus, especially weaker and backward sections, a.k.a Pasmanda Muslims, must be seen in this light.

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As per other leaders, a message was also directed at Fadnavis himself, with the intention being to “clip the wings” of the former CM. While once seen as enjoying the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he reportedly never had the whole-hearted backing of Home Minister Amit Shah. In conversation with The Indian Express, at least three party leaders who have direct access to the RSS said Fadnavis had joined the club of the “sidelined” leaders in the party.

One of them even said: “Now it’s clear that Fadnavis will never be the chief minister of Maharashtra. He will be brought to national politics and will just be one of the Union ministers.” Citing Fadnavis’s proximity to Nagpur (the RSS headquarters), some of them say he will be a replacement to Nitin Gadkari after the next Lok Sabha election.

According to yet another group of leaders, the cutting of size of Fadnavis is in line with the diminution of the Brahmin leadership in the BJP, as the party promotes non-Brahmin forward castes as well as frames its politics around backward communities. Some leaders see it as deliberate downsizing of “Brahmin faces close to the RSS”.

Disillusionment has been building up among Brahmin leaders. In May, Union minister and former Maharashtra BJP president Raosaheb Danve said he did not want to see Brahmins “just as municipal councillors or council presidents” and that he hoped to “see a Brahmin holding the post of CM of this state”.

What all leaders agree on is that whatever the message, it fits in with the party’s plans for 2024.

First published on: 11-07-2022 at 02:40:25 pm
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