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Devendra Fadnavis’ Changing Fortunes: From Challenger to Kingmaker & Now Deputy

Sworn in as the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, what did Devendra Fadnavis gain from the crisis in Shiv Sena?

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Politics
5 min read
Devendra Fadnavis’ Changing Fortunes: From Challenger to Kingmaker & Now Deputy
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At 5 pm on Thursday, 30 June, Devendra Fadnavis, then the Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra informed the press that rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde will soon take oath as the new chief minister of the state.

"Eknath Shinde will alone take oath at 7.30 pm today. I will not be a part of the Cabinet, but I will take responsibility for the smooth functioning of the alliance and the government," Fadnavis said.

While the announcement took many by surprise, it was hailed as a "masterstroke", one that will allow Fadnavis to call the shots from outside, much like how Balasaheb Thackeray used to function.

At 7.40 pm, however, Fadnavis took oath as the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, a clear demotion for a man who until 2019 was the chief minister of the state, that too a first from the BJP.

What exactly happened in these two hours and 40 minutes is something that only the top BJP leadership at the Centre or Devendra Fadnavis himself can tell us.

But in the meantime...

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Aap Chronology Samajhiye!

The political crisis in Maharashtra which started on 21 June when Uddhav Thackeray woke up to the rude shock of many Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde camping in a hotel in Gujarat's Surat.

The MLAs had one demand – the Shiv Sena should ditch the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance with NCP and Congress and join hands with its old friend, the BJP.

Over the week, as Uddhav Thackeray refused to give in, the number of rebel MLAs went up from 11 in Surat to over 35 in Guwahati.

Three men from the BJP – Maharashtra LoP Devendra Fadnavis, Gujarat party President CR Paatil, and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma – are being seen as the chief architects of this plan.

While the saffron party itself did not say much regarding the crisis within the Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde hinted at the role of BJP in the revolt.

While addressing the rebel MLAs in Guwahati on 24 June, Shinde claimed that he has been promised all support by the mahashakti that has taken on Pakistan. "Let’s be together in happiness and in trouble. The victory is ours. A national party, a mahashakti that has taken on Pakistan has told me that the decision I have taken is historic for the country," he said, clearly hinting towards the BJP.

All this while as rebel MLAs continued holidaying first in Surat, then Guwahati, followed by a brief stint in Goa, Fadnavis was quietly holding meetings with the state and the central leadership over the party's next course of action.

Late at night on Tuesday, 28 June, he met Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari demanding that the Uddhav Thackeray government should immediately prove its majority on the floor of the house. A day later, Thackeray quit, leaving the playing field wide open for Fadnavis.

Soon, the internet was flooded with 'swearing-in' jokes as everybody expected Fadnavis to take over as the chief minister. For context, in 2019, the BJP and the Shiv Sena contested the state Assembly elections together. As per the mandate the alliance partners won 161 seats – a comfortable majority in the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly.

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The Sena however, walked out of the alliance stating that the BJP backtracked on its promise to rotate the CM chair between Sena and itself after two and a half years. As a result, nobody staked claim to forming the government for close to a month and President's rule was imposed in the state.

Later, Fadnavis formed a government with Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar at 8 am after President's rule was revoked at 5 am. 48 hours later, Ajit Pawar, after being persuaded by uncle Sharad Pawar, withdrew his support and returned to the NCP.

With this the Maha Vikas Aghadi government came to power and while Thackeray became the chief minister, Fadnavis became a bit of a meme sensation on the internet for his hushed and rushed swearing-in ceremony.

Cut to June 2022 and just when everybody thought that Fadnavis will finally take oath, he sprung a surprise by doing exactly that – first by saying that Shinde will be CM and he'll not be part of the government, and then by backtracking to take oath as deputy chief minister.

Jokes and Memes Aside, Fadnavis Was Relentless in the Opposition

Right from the start, there were few takers of the survival of the NCP-Congress-Shiv Sena alliance. The Shiv Sena's politics has over the decades shaped around opposing the NCP and the Congress ideology. So when the trio came together, internal fissures were unavoidable. Add to that, Fadnavis being in the Opposition did not do much to help MVA's cause.

Throughout the two-and-a-half-year long stint of the Uddhav Thackeray alliance, Fadnavis did not miss even a single chance to corner the government.

He closely followed developments and demanded action in the Ambani bomb scare case, which eventually led to the arrest of former top cop Sachin Waze. He kept the government on its toes on issues like the alleged extortion case involving former Mumbai Police Chief Param Bir Singh and the Aarey Metro car shed controversy.

After assuming the role of the LoP, Fadnavis has toured Maharashtra thrice, interacting with party workers and cadre on ground. Two of these tours came amid the Covid-19 crisis, while one was after parts of Maharashtra witnessed intense flooding in 2021.

Fadnavis also helmed the party’s campaign for Assembly elections in Bihar and Goa in 2020 and 2022, and most recently the Rajya Sabha and MLC elections in Maharashtra earlier this month.

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Third Time Unlucky: How Will the 'Demotion' Impact Fadnavis?

At around 6.30 pm on Thursday, when BJP party President JP Nadda told news agency ANI that he had "requested" Fadnavis to take up the post of the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, many stared in disbelief.

But within 20 minutes, a tweet by Home Minister Amit Shah confirmed that Fadnavis' dream of becoming the chief minister of Maharashtra for the third time have been shattered by the central leadership of the BJP.

The hasty U-turn from Fadnavis wanting to function from outside of the Cabinet to him taking oath as Shinde's deputy came within a little less than three hours and is not a style that the present day BJP associates itself with.

Unlike what happened with Fadnavis, most of BJP's decisions regarding formation of government or distribution of portfolios are pre-decided, well rehearsed and systematically conveyed.

It is interesting to note that most of BJP's current deputy CMs like Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi in Bihar or Keshav Prasad Maurya in Uttar Pradesh are much smaller leaders in appeal and popularity when compared with Fadnavis. Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi are also the only other other two BJP leaders who function as deputies to an alliance partner of the BJP. They are deputies to JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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