Sunday, March 05, 2017

Watch out for Devendra Fadnavis, BJP's gen-next leader

Pic Courtesy +ABPLIVE 

This article was first published in +ABPLIVE

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Just when two forty-something scions of political dynasties are tripping over each other to promote themselves as youth icons, BJP has quietly gifted the country its own gen-next leader in Devendra Fadnavis.

Like in Uttar Pradesh now, if one recalls, the BJP had gone to polls in Maharashtra without a Chief Ministerial face. Even then, the strategy was a matter of intense debate and discussion. It was only towards the last lap of his campaigning, in Nagpur, that Narendra Modi had dropped a broad hint about Fadnavis being one of the probable names.

In fact, the triumvirate of Fadnavis, Khattar and Raghubar Das, all anointed as Chief Ministers within a gap of a few weeks towards the end of 2014, set some kind of a trend. They were all relatively unknown faces and somewhat surprise choices defying normal caste and region equations.
Of them, Fadnavis was more of an exception than others. Not only was Fadnavis younger than the rest, but he also did not have a strong constituency of his own to write home about. In a state like Maharashtra that boasts of being the commercial epicentre of the country money is a key determinant of political relevance. Therefore, even a first time young MLA like Pankaja Munde harboured ambition of becoming CM purely on the strength of inheriting her powerful father’s legacy. But, Fadnavis came from a modest background with a clean image and reputation of a sincere and dedicated ​party ​ worker. In some ways, he was a symbol of the industrious, educated, middle class Marathi ‘mulga’.

Putting Fadnavis at the helm in a large and complex state like Maharashtra was a huge gamble of Narendra Modi. His challenge was not only tackling a demanding and bickering partner like Shiv Sena but also managing heavy weights within his own party, which called for extra-ordinary maturity. Even though out of power and reduced almost to stubble, NCP and Congress in certain boroughs still remained forces to be reckoned with. It must be said to his credit that, Fadnavis navigated through the pitfalls and minefields with dexterity that is rare for a debutant.

One had observed signs of Fadnavis’ deft political management in the few by elections and local body polls over the last two years, but the recent BMC and Municipality Polls were undoubtedly his baptism by fire. While the BJP’s sweep of the rest of Maharashtra was less of a surprise for many, barring perhaps the traditional NCP stronghold of Pune, Pimpri-Chichwad, it was Mumbai that left everyone awestruck. It was truly a moment of Fadnavis coming of age.

But, if the results were stunning, the biggest statement of Fadnavis’ ascending stature was his magnanimous declaration of not contesting the mayoral position and offering outside support to Shiv Sena in forming the Brihan-Mumbai Municipal Council. At one stroke, he shed his “come lately” status to steal Uddhav Thackeray’s thunder and place himself on a higher pedestal. It was an unequivocal announcement that henceforth, Shiv Sena and other political parties have to deal with him on his own right and not as a surrogate of Modi and Amit Shah. The same message would have surely gone home also to his own senior colleagues and peers in the state BJP.

Maharashtra on a platter, just before the last lap of U P Elections, was the best return gift that Devendra Fadnavis could have given Narendra Modi for choosing him as the Chief Minister. But, in living up to the confidence reposed in him by​ ​ ​ Modi-Shah, Devendra Fadnavis has also started the generational shift in BJP that is required to reinvent the party and make it future ready.
This is a strong signal for other regional veterans who may have started taking their positions for granted, many of whom should start planning either for early superannuation or being bumped up to lofty but unimportant positions at the centre. In the event of BJP winning in Uttar Pradesh, which many are willing to bet upon today, it can be expected with reasonable certainty that Modi-Shah will spring another fresh face.

And, in the BJP ruled states that will go for polls in the coming two years, the incumbent Chief Ministers should not assume their indispensability. But, the challenge for Modi and Shah will be to find more like Fadnavis across the country, who will shape BJP 2.0 — that is more progressive and liberal. The young India, whom Modi has wooed so relentlessly, expects it of him. He can deliver on the promise only through a new breed of BJP leaders who shall walk the talk of governance, development and growth.

Originally published at on March 5, 2017.