After two rough years, road ahead tough for Fadnavis

Mumbai, Oct 31 (IANS) Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday completed two years in office — and the ride so far has been rough, but the road ahead appears equally tough.

Sworn-in as the head of a rickety minority government with external support from the mercurial Nationalist Congress Party, Fadnavis breathed easily only five weeks later when its time-tested ally Shiv Sena ‘defected’ to the government from the Opposition.

However, his ‘Mr. Clean’ image notwithstanding, he faced real opposition from within — both by his ambitious colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party and the blow-hot-blow-cold ally Shiv Sena.

The Congress-led opposition has also kept him on his toes, but the real threat is expected only when he faces an opposition-sponsored no-trust move and a breach of privilege motion during the winter session of the state legislature in Nagpur, in December.

The Shiv Sena has continued to play truant during most of the past two years — with severe criticism in public and in private and through stinging editorials in the party mouthpieces, Saamana and Dopahar Ka Saamana.

At times, it appeared Fadnavis was literally ‘sleeping with an embedded enemy’ as the opposition parties threw the gauntlet at Shiv Sena to “show guts and get out” (of government).

But it was Fadnavis’s diplomatic skills, coupled with his dark statement that ‘he had files ready’ on everybody, besides a warm personal rapport with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and the confidence of the BJP central leadership, that he has managed to surf through smoothly.

“I’m here for five years … I am stable,” he confidently asserted on the eve of completion of two years in office.

Challenges came on other fronts, too, like allegations of corruption against some of his cabinet colleagues which he contemptuously dismissed.

“There have not been any scams in the past two years… There have been charges of corruption, yes… but they were only that, not backed up with evidences or documents,” Fadnavis observed.

On his senior-most colleague Eknath Khadse, who had to quit the cabinet under a cloud, Fadnavis expressed confidence that he (Khadse) would emerge clean and return to the cabinet soon.

But the Congress pounced on him for what it dubbed as ‘double standards’ on corruption — and senior Congress leader Sanjay Dutt termed the statement hinting at Khadse’s return as an attempt to subvert the probe against the ex-minister.

There is the ongoing agitation by the politically powerful Maratha community, seeking reservations and amendments to the atrocities laws, on which the government sits on a sticky wicket, while Maratha strongman and NCP chief Sharad Pawar enjoys Fadnavis’s dilemma.

Though Fadnavis says the government is committed to reservations, it could open a Pandora’s box of similar demands from the Muslims and other smaller but significant communities — and it could be a genie difficult to bottle.

But, thanks to support from the central leadership, he neutralised internal challenges to his leadership and claims to the CM’s seat by some of his cabinet colleagues.

Yet, the two ruling allies continue to be at loggerheads over a separate state of Vidarbha. The Shiv Sena demands a clear statement on the issue of a ‘united Maharashtra’ from Fadnavis, especially since the BJP is in favour of smaller states.

Now, all of his political skills will be on trial at the upcoming ‘mini-general elections’ in the state to around 230 civic bodies, including mega-corporations like Brihanmumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Nagpur and others, between November 27, 2016 and January 8, 2017.

This time, the BJP has played safe and lassoed in the unpredictable Shiv Sena with an alliance for the civic polls — unlike the 2014 assembly elections which the two parties fought independently.

Performance-wise in the past two years, most consider it a mixed bag of goodies, with high marks on some issues like water conservation efforts coupled with a benevolent monsoon.

This was offset by low scores on the agrarian crisis punctuated by farmland suicides and, recently, the spectre of malnutrition plaguing some backward regions, triggering processions by different groups, which adversely hit the government’s image.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

–IANS

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