The period leading to Maharashtra elections last year was a marked by political uncertainties. BJP and Shiv Sena had broken off their 25 year old alliance, Congress and NCP had done the same, making the outcome of Maharashtra polls, that were initially expected to be a clean sweep for BJP-SS combine, a cliffhanger. Finally, when the votes were counted, it emerged that BJP had bested its long time ally Shiv Sena, while the electorate had dumped the Congress and the NCP. BJP appointed a young, clean face as the CM of Maharashtra. 44 year old Devendra Fadnavis, ex-Nagpur Mayor and three time MLA, was relatively unknown in the political circles of Maharashtra, when he was thrust into the limelight of Maharashtra politics. A period of stretched negotiations between the BJP and Shiv Sena ensued before an aura of stability could be imparted to the new government.
That administration is now a year old and it might be a good time to do a fair assessment of the government that was elected on the promise of change. Keeping in line with the narrative of Main Stream media, we will start with the Ugly, then the Bad of the government, before we spend a small portion on its Good!
1. Shiv Sena
Shiv Sena and the BJP had in the past enjoyed Ram-Lakshman type of fraternal relations. BJP was happy being the junior partner of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. BJP leaders ensured that they paid adequate respect to SS Supremo Balasaheb Thackrey. However, the political equations in the state underwent a change with the rise of MNS under Raj Thackrey, the demise of Balasaheb Thackrey and the weak leadership of Uddhav Thackrey. The rise of NaMo in the same period meant that BJP was unwilling to play the role of second fiddle any longer. This thought reflected in the unusual levels of assertiveness that was deployed by the BJP during the preparation of Maharashtra assembly elections. The BJP refused to get cowed down by SS threats and decided to go it alone. The fact that the Marathi Manoos chose BJP over Shiv Sena rattled Sena leadership. Since then, the Sena has left no stone unturned in embarrassing the Devendra Fadnavis administration. These days, Uddhav Thackrey and his ilk do not even miss an opportunity to mock even PM Modi. The meat ban protests, the Sudheendra Kulkarni episode, the opposition to Ghulam Ali, frequent posturing and issuing of threats is a way for the Sena to retain its relevance in Maharashtra politics. Unfortunately, as an alliance partner in the Devendra Fadnavis administration, it reflects poorly on Devendra Fadnavis to have failed in controlling this troublesome ally.
2. Weak Communication strategy
Fadnavis government has been widely excoriated by MSM for the several bans that have been promulgated by Fadnavis government. It all started with the ban on slaughter of cows and bulls, which led to an outcry amongst the intellectuals that the government was trying to dictate dietary norms. This ban was followed by the meat ban during the Jain festival of Paryushan, which led to another round of tut-tutting against the Devendra Fadnavis government. Lastly, the government has indicated that it is opposed to the recent Supreme Court judgement on restarting dance bars in Mumbai, setting the stage for probably another round of confrontation with civil society activists. There was also the unrelated issue of Auto Drivers needing to know Marathi to get permits that aroused the ire of the activists and the “sedition circular” that worked up the self proclaimed guardians of civil society . It is not that these acts of the government that were the issue but the failure of Devendra Fadnavis administration to deploy the communication strategy to counter the spread of disinformation and misinformation by its opponents. By having failed to counter the opposition and the intellectuals, the Devendra Fadnavis government ended up getting a lot of undeserved flak. Finally though, Mr. Fadnavis had to step in with his open letter to Rajdeep Sardesai that rebutted each allegation and ended up winning quite a few admirers for Mr. Devendra Fadnavis .
1. Say No to Pakistan
Shiv Sena’s rabid nationalism reflected poorly on Fadnavis administration. Firstly, eminent Pak Singer, Ghulam Ali was forced to cancel his concert, then ex-BJP ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni was doused in Ink for releasing Kasturi’s book and finally Pak Kabbadi players were not allowed to play in Mumbai. While one may debate whether or not one must support the right of Pakistani artistes and players to play in India, the point here was that Fadnavis government’s failure in guaranteeing the safety of Pakistanis who had been legally allowed entry in Maharashtra/India reflected poorly on the state administration. Fadnavis’ belated condemnations failed to impress anyone and raised questions on his ability to rein in his allies.
2. Drought and Farmer suicides
Farmer suicides continued in the first year of Fadnavis administration. However, this is an issue that has been carried forward from the maladministration of Congress-NCP days and will take time to tackle. However, had Devendra Fadnavis been able to take some drastic steps to curtail this issue, it would have surely won him immense goodwill.
1. Jal Yukt Shivar
The Water conservation program of the government has won accolades far and wide. Repair and maintenance of check dams, storage dams and other water-storage measures in over 25000 villages is widely believed to be a game changer as per India’s water Singh, Rajendra Singh. As of now, the program has been launched in 5000 villages across the state.
2. Clean image
Fadnavis administration enjoys a clean image, which is a welcome break from the scam ridden days of Congress-NCP governments. Allegations that were initially levied against Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawade are widely believed to be baseless. Devendra Fadnavis has repeatedly claimed that he will not tolerate corruption in his administration.
Fadnavis has been able to reassert Maharashtra’s position as the topmost investor friendly state in the country. His visit to the US and China has been highly successful, with the $5Bn Foxconn deal, a stellar feather in his cap. Even in the US, Fadnavis succeeded in bagging Rs 4500 crore worth of deals. Fadnavis has promised that he will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that Maharashtra becomes a Super Industrial State within a few years.
4. The Right to Services Act
The Right to Services act is a landmark piece of legislation of the Devendra Fadnavis government to enable citizens to get time bound services from government servants. The legislation is directed at improving transparency and curbing corruption. 42 services had been introduced online including birth and caste certificates, ration cards, license for small establishments etc. One will need to wait to see if this legislation can truly be a game changer in improving transparency and improving response time from administration.
All in all, Fadnavis has had a remarkable first year. His administration has been a reversal from the corrupt 15 years of Congress-NCP rule. Devendra Fadnavis , however, will need to be careful to ensure that he is able to showcase his achievements in the Media to be on top of the battle for public perception. Who knows, with a strong and positive administration, Maharashtra may just be the engine that will propel the India Growth Story!