Nagpur/Mumbai: The Maharashtra government of the BJP and Shiv Sena has just completed exactly half of its five-year term.
The big headline of this tenure lies in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The 46-year-old has had a tumultuous two and a half years. But not only has he shown himself to be a political survivor, he has also emerged as one of the BJP’s biggest assets by exponentially expanding his party’s footprint across India’s second-largest state.
So what makes Fadnavis successful?
DELIVERY OF POLL PROMISE
Let’s take the case of drought and water scarcity. The impact of Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (JSA), the much-acclaimed micro-irrigation project launched in 2015, couldn’t be assessed in the summer of 2016 because of a poor monsoon in the previous year. But the benefits are clearly showing now.
After decent rains last year, thanks to JSA, ground water levels across the state have increased significantly. Last April , in the drought-hit region of Marathwada, 4,640 tankers had to be deployed across 3,586 villages to provide drinking water. This year, it is down to 669 tankers for 886 villages. That’s a phenomenal reduction of 85 percent!
In fact, take a closer look at Latur district, which made national headlines after the city had no water and water trains had to be rushed in.
In April 2016, the district required 260 tankers. This year, it has dropped to zero. In Osmanabad, the need has plummeted from 373 tankers to just 1.
By any yardstick, this is a massive achievement. It requires planning and monitoring of how a hugely complex scheme is being implemented on the ground. Moreover, so that farmers can avail better forecasts during the sowing season, the government is also setting up more than 2,000 automatic weather stations across the state. These are important steps especially since Fadnavis hopes to make Maharashtra drought-free by 2020.
FAST-TRACK INFRA DEVELOPMENT
Ask any Mumbaikar what he hates most about the city and she will tell you “traffic”. And lately, on several arterial roads, the traffic has worsened. But not many are complaining as the delay is because of the fast-tracking of infrastructure projects like the Metro. Fadnavis also removed hurdles surrounding the 22 km Trans-Harbour Link project – India’s largest sea bridge connecting the island city of Mumbai and Raigarh district in the mainland – which was stuck for years. The 35 km long Coastal Road which will run from Nariman Point in South Mumbai to Kandivali in the North of the city will also soon begin. For the first time there is a feeling that kaam fatafat ho raha hai. These projects are crucial. Not only will they improve the quality of life as they will help ease congestion and reduce travel time, but these projects are worth Rs. 60,000 crore and will vitalize the economy.
TRANSPARANCY IN POLICY
During the previous regime, Congressmen and former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan would often be accused by his own ally, the NCP, of “policy paralysis”, which alleged Chavan was not clearing files. Whatever may have been the compulsions of the earlier government, the lethargy certainly seems to have gone. Fadnavis has cleared a record 19,000 of the 20,000 files sent to him since October 31, 2014, according to reports.
And this style is gradually being reflected in the way the bureaucracy functions too. To ensure that statements and commitments given by the Chief Minister are implemented, concerned departments have to submit a report on what action they have taken. If it is kept pending, it is considered a violation of government order. The message is clear: get working.
The many electoral victories. Nothing tastes sweeter. From local bodies to panchayats to municipal corporations, the BJP has been on a roll. While some credit of the massive mandate goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, it was also because Fadnavis led from the front. Latur, for instance, is the bastion of former Chief Minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh. For seven decades, the Congress had an incredible hold on the region. Fadnavis ended it with the BJP winning the civic body elections just weeks ago.
He has been mocked and ridiculed but he had the last laugh. Fadnavis became the target of Shiv Sena’s taunts and threats ever since the relationship of the two estranged allies went south in 2014 over seat sharing for the assembly elections. But in the Sena’s den – Mumbai – Fadnavis proved the Nagpur boy has what it takes, giving the BJP its best result ever in the February election to the local corporation and placing second by just 2 seats to the Sena, which has governed the corporation for 25 years.
LEADER TO MASS LEADER
Senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse was for all practical purposes the only direct competition that Fadnavis faced. But with his ouster from the cabinet following allegations of financial impropriety, Fadnavis has sealed his pole position within the BJP’s state unit. Moreover, the massive electoral victories have weakened any chance of possible dissent. But more importantly, Fadnavis has come of age and has proved himself as a mass leader. The civic polls in Mumbai and other cities in Maharashtra were seen as mini-assembly elections. Fadnavis took it upon himself to lead the campaign and at the peak, he held 50 election rallies in just 10 days. The results showed he nailed it.
Critics and political opponents agree that Fadnavis is a soft-spoken, grounded and humble person. Rarely will you hear him speak heatedly with his staff, colleagues or journalists. It is this quality that wins trust and respect. Add to that, given his RSS background, Fadnavis is extremely disciplined. He knows how much to speak and when to speak. More importantly, he knows when to keep quiet.
But the big test for him will be in May 2019. Maharashtra will be crucial for Modi’s re-election and Fadnavis will have to deliver.