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With a Maratha CM, BJP bid to settle scores with Pawar, Sena

The Times of India logo The Times of India 01-07-2022
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NEW DELHI: Devendra Fadnavis as deputy CM came as a surprise but sources said it might have been in the works all along, with BJP planning to achieve more significant political objectives in the state which is home to the country's financial capital and accounts for 48 members of Lok Sabha.

Maharashtra is the second state after Bihar where BJP has ceded chief ministership to a partner despite having more MLAs. But that is not an exact parallel. In Bihar, BJP contested the 2020 polls by projecting Nitish Kumar as its CM candidate and stuck to its original choice despite having outperformed him significantly.

In contrast, BJP has a popular face in Fadnavis. He was seen as having performed well as CM - something which was a factor in BJP-Sena alliance's victory in the 2019 polls. His party refused to sacrifice his claim when Uddhav claimed the CMO as the condition for continuing in the Hindutva combination.

READ ALSO: Maharashtra twist: Why BJP said no to CM and Fadnavis yes to deputy CM

Fadnavis has lately been basking in the glow of back-to-back victories he pulled off in the polls for Rajya Sabha and state legislative council and the deft execution of Amit Shah's moves to restore the supremacy of Hindutva politics.

Even as his supporters were planning grand celebrations over his likely appointment as CM, Fadnavis dropped a bombshell at BJP's high-level core committee meeting at his residence in the afternoon, saying Shinde and not he would be CM and he himself would not be part of the government. The core committee meeting was attended by state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Ashish Shelar and Girish Mahajan, and was held a few hours before Fadnavis' media briefing after his meeting with Governor B S Koshyari.

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Sources said the "surprise" may have been in the works all along, with BJP planning to achieve more significant political objectives in the state. According to reports, ever since BJP leaders roped in Shinde for toppling the MVA government, he had laid down the condition that he would chalk out an action plan provided he was made CM. But it was felt that if Shinde was made CM with 40 legislators, it would annoy BJP leaders led by Fadnavis. Finally, however, the proposal to anoint Shinde as CM was accepted. "There is no information on whether Fadnavis was aware of the proposal. It appears he was told a few days ago, so he made the announcement on Thursday," the leader said.

Interestingly, when Fadnavis was CM from 2014 to 2019, he had opposed the creation of a deputy CM's post, saying it creates another power centre which is not healthy for the administration.

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According to sources, by getting Fadnavis to make way for Shinde, a Maratha, BJP has tried to settle scores with both Sena and NCP boss Sharad Pawar who, saffron sources maintain, incited Uddhav to defect by using his known links with Sena's controversial MP Sanjay Raut.

READ ALSO: A lot's at stake: Retaining Balasaheb legacy is Uddhav Thackeray's immediate task

Even as BJP has emerged as the single biggest political force at the expense of Pawar, Congress and Sena, it sees Pawar's influence among Marathas of western Maharashtra as a challenge. It has, using PM Narendra Modi's popularity, made inroads among the powerful social community, but is keen to build upon it ahead of the 2024 polls. Fadnavis' Brahmin background could have been a handicap as Pawar camp is known to revive the memory of Peshwa Raj to rally Marathas and others. Shinde, originally from Satara in Western Maharashtra, is seen as better equipped to lead the battle.

His elevation will also help BJP's plan to eat into Sena's Hindutva constituency. The BJP leadership was wary of the possibility of Uddhav regaining its sympathy by playing a victim of intrigues. Having a pedigree Sainik as CM will help blunt the charge. The BMC polls will show if BJP got its maths right.

-With inputs by Prafulla Marpakwar

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