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Devendra Fadnavis: BJP’s victory machine

Nothing succeeds like success, it is said. In the same tune, nothing continues to fail like failure. All this seems true if the success of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in elections at various levels in the recent years are any indication. Ever since Fadnavis came to fore as the leader of the BJP in Maharashtra four years ago, nothing seems to be going wrong for the party.

In May 2014, the party won the all-important Lok Sabha elections at the national level, the Maharashtra party unit taking the major share winning 40 out of 48 seats in the State. This was quickly followed by the elections for the State Assembly that the BJP decided to contest on its own without the support of the Shiv Sena. Fadnavis played a risky game and broke the 25-year-old alliance on the eve of the last day of filing nominations. This move left the Sena in a lurch as the party had never thought that the BJP would ever gather courage to go on its own in the state. This gamble paid rich dividend to the party when it won 123 seats in the 288-member House falling short of just 25 seats to reach the magic figure of half-way mark. The sheer pressure from the party MLAs and leaders forced the Party Chief Uddhav Thackeray to forge a truce with the BJP. The Sena finally agreed to join the State Cabinet though the terms put forth by the BJP were humiliating and insulting.

Since then there has been uneasy calm in the Sena camp that does not like to play second fiddle, at the same time does not dare to relinquish its berths in the cabinet and oppose the BJP-dominated government in the state. While this broken marriage is technically surviving, the Sena-BJP alliance broke at the level of civic bodies also. The elections for ten municipal corporations were held in February, which were fought separately by the two parties. Except Mumbai and Thane, the BJP won all other cities, leaving all other parties – the Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party nursing their wounds. In Mumbai, it failed short of two seats than the Sena. But instead of resolving the issue on negotiation table, it unilaterally decided to withdraw its claims on the seats of Mayor, Deputy Mayor and all statutory committees and declared to appoint a separate Ombudsman (Up-Lokayukta) to look into the complaints against the BMC administration. This is a near ‘death trap’ for the ruling Sena. Now it has to rule with a hanging sword over its head.

Now that the Fadnavis government has almost completed half its term, the Chief Minister sitting firm in his saddle, has started calling significant shots. While consolidating its position and image amidst the electorate, Fadnavis is also putting all opposition parties including the Sena in an awkward position. For example, the recent Municipal Corporation elections for Latur, Chandrapur and Parbhani, two of which were wrested by the BJP and the Congress, could retain only one. The verdict of Latur and Chandrapur was shocking for the opposition. In Latur, the BJP had failed to win even a single seat in the last 2012 elections, when the Congress had registered a mammoth victory once again under the leadership of former Chief Minister and union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. However, Deshmukh died in August 2012 and the Deshmukh family lost its hold over the city and district. The party lost its candidate in the Lok Sabha and now Deshmukh’s son and heir Amit failed to show his might. The BJP that had drawn blank in the 2012 civic elections turned out to be victorious by winning the power. This was a rude shock to the Deshmukh clan that tried to rule Latur from Mumbai. Amit, a sophisticated politician, tried to bank on the charisma of his deceased father but in vain. He plunged his actor brother Riteish also in the campaign at the last minute but in vain. This was despite the fact that the BJP had no big name to run the campaign and the entire responsibility was shouldered by the new guardian minister Sambhaji Patil-Nilangekar. He though a relatively green-horn in election management, proved his mettle amply gracefully.

In the 70-member Latur Municipal Corporation the BJP returned 36 seats to take clear and unbeatable lead. It reduced the ruling Congress from 46 to 33. On the other hand, the NCP that had 13 councilors in 2012 only won.
In Chandrapur, as expected the BJP won with sizable margin of 36 to 12 of Congress in the 66-seat Civic Body. In the last elections, the Congress had 26 seats as against the BJP’s 12 seats. Here the Sena and the NCP could return only two seats each. Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar played a vital role to wrest the power from the Congress. The local lad Mungantiwar put all his weight, clout and prestige to ensure BJP’s victory. Here also the Sena fell flat on its face to show its strength in the Vidarbha region. The only grace for the Congress, NCP and the Sena was the city of Parbhani where the Congress retained power and the BJP finished third.

The moral of the story is that the BJP, particularly Fadnavis, is gaining more and more strength. He has become a ‘victory machine’. Now civic elections for newly formed Panvel Municipal Corporation, sitting next to the Navi Mumbai Township, are announced for 24th May along with Bhiwandi and Malegaon. This would be another test for Fadnavis as Bhiwandi and Malegaon have heavy Muslim pockets. Will Fadnavis’ charisma work there also?

The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS)

This post was syndicated from Free Press Journal. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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