If Devendra Fadnavis had not joined politics, he could have become head of the department in a law college, or general manager in some multinational company, or director of some important educational institute. Nitin Gadkari’s personality oozes politics. Not Fadnavis’s. Both are from Vidarbha, and both are Brahmins. (Those who are more curious about the caste factor could note that both are Deshastha Brahmins. Fadnavis does not have a genealogical link to the famous Peshwa Nana Fadnavis, who was a Chitpavan Brahmin).
Generally, the work culture in Vidarbha is compared with that of Goa — relaxed, laidback and unencumbered. The difference being Vidarbhaites can have their ‘susegad’, a kind of lifelong tranquility, without booze. But this easygoing culture of Vidarbha has not really affected Fadnavis. Though, like many other BJP leaders — Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Vinod Tawde — Fadnavis had to undergo bariatric surgery to remove extra fat, he has always remained very active.
Political activity is a legacy of the family. His father was a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, from the Jan Sangh. Fadnavis began to attend RSS shakhas when in school and remained physically and politically active through the Sangh. With the RSS headquarters at Nagpur, he could be ideologically and politically in close proximity to the Parivar.
At the age of 44, Fadnavis has over 23 years of political experience as he was elected corporator in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation when he was just 21. At 27, he even became mayor of the city, one of the youngest in India. Having studied law, he is able to articulate his stand on most issues in a studious manner and often eloquently. Known for his rather soft and accommodative nature, he has been able to make friends across the political spectrum. But that also makes him far too “obediently yours” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Indeed, that is the main reason why he has been chosen for the post.
Nitin Gadkari was minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government in 1995. At that time Modi was not even on Gujarat’s political horizon. Gadkari was very close to the late Balasaheb Thackeray. In fact, in one of his effusive moments, Balasaheb even said he would have made Nitin Gadkari chief minister, over and above Shiv Sena leaders. Gadkari had implemented Balasaheb’s dream project, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, in record time and at a relatively low cost. Known for being involved with small and medium industrial projects in Vidarbha, and promoting innovation, he is directly associated with ‘development’, the Modi Mantra.
So the idea of becoming CM was injected in his psyche much before Modi became the CM of Gujarat. Gadkari was also close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Also, with roots in Nagpur, he has direct access and blessings of the RSS. He was the choice of Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat to be the president of the BJP.
Modi is known to have strong reservations (perhaps jealousy or competitive rivalry) about Gadkari. Yet another reason for his qualms was that Gadkari had brought Sanjay Joshi, Modi’s bête noire, into the organisation. Modi had threatened to boycott a BJP convention in Ahmedabad if Joshi was not thrown out. Gadkari had to oblige. Modi won the intra-party duel. This was much before the Gujarat election in December 2012, which launched Modi for prime ministership.
Therefore, there was no ‘race’ between Gadkari and Fadnavis. Modi could not have chosen Gadkari, who thought of himself as the ‘original development man’. Modi could not have created a parallel power centre. The chief minister of Maharashtra, by virtue of being in Mumbai, is automatically part of the corporate world. Gadkari is savvy with the wheeling-dealings of the stock market and the business community. That itself is seen by the Modi-Shah duo as a threat to their desire to control all levers of power across the country.
Along with law, Fadnavis has completed a course in business management. But everybody knows that academic knowledge of business management has absolutely nothing in common with actual business practices. Fadnavis will depend heavily on Delhi (read Modi/PMO) for most decisions regarding investment or the development of Mumbai. It is a complex web of decision-making. Mumbai’s corporation is jointly controlled by Shiv Sena and BJP. Today, even if they form a ruling alliance at the state level, the relationship is so badly soured that both parties will look at each other with suspicion. The Sena leadership is paranoid and in panic that the BJP wants to swallow it.
It is a four-tier political structure and all these tiers are often mutually exclusive. The Zilla Parishads are in the hands of the NCP or Congress. All rural institutions, from banks to colleges, are in their hands. The corporations are controlled by Shiv Sena, MNS, Congress and NCP. The so-called Congress System operates at the local levels. The state will be run by a minority BJP government and the central government by Modi (not BJP really). There is a huge disconnect as it is between the NCP, Congress, BJP and Sena. Fadnavis will have to master the trapeze act to manage this horrendous system. It is neither a question of experience nor of being well-meaning and clean. Even a classical Maratha like Prithviraj Chavan, with blessings and support from Delhi, could not cope with the skulduggery in the state.
For Fadnavis, the governance will be a challenge on two counts. His ministers have hardly any roots in the dry lands of south Maharashtra. And the ‘wild west’ that is the notorious western Maharashtra, which is run by the neo-rich rural and feudal satraps who are beyond the political reach of the BJP. It is here that Fadnavis will need the NCP assistance, and the NCP will require protection and patronage from the government. However, the rebellious, aspirant, unhinged and unemployed lumpen youth can’t be straightjacketed by any government. They provided audacious energy to social media, going on an online rampage during the Modi campaign. They were the cheerleaders who raised Modi-Modi-Modi slogans. But the political fire-brigade of Fadnavis will find it difficult to control the inferno of this youth brigade. Unfulfilled aspirations can lead to anger, and frustrations can lead to fierce violence. The seeds of that kind of anarchy are everywhere.
(Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist and author.)