Home > opinion > blogs > For Devendra Fadnavis, enemy lies within

Mumbai: On 7 February, Devendra Fadnavis, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) first chief minister of Maharashtra, signed a contract with Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) to build a network of 6,000 smart cameras in Mumbai at a cost of 800 crore.

The day was carefully chosen. It was 100th day of the Fadnavis government. The previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government had announced the plan after the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008. The network will alert police authorities about any suspicious activity, person or object and help foil terror attacks, conduct better investigations and tackle regular crime.

The project is critical for the country’s financial capital, which has been a frequent victim of terror attacks. However, the Congress-NCP government dawdled over the contract until it went out of office. The government could not settle on the right technology, fix a project cost or find a vendor with sufficient experience to install such a large network.

The message the 44-year-old Fadnavis wants to send across is clear: The contrast between his government and the previous one. He wants to convey that his government means business. Indeed, a review of the major decisions of the Fadnavis government gives the impression of a man in a hurry, one who wants to walk the talk.

After it assumed office, the Fadnavis government set about increasing the ease of doing business in the state, reducing the number of permissions needed to set up industry from 76 to 19. He cleared development plans for 18 small towns and village clusters located on the outskirts of cities like Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nagpur and Nashik, which had gathered dust on the desk of previous chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for almost three years. He launched an ambitious scheme to make 5,000 villages in the state drought-free every year. The government also published a draft of the Service Guarantee Act to ensure delivery of 58 government services such as providing land records, caste certificates and driving licences within a stipulated time.

However, there is no progress yet on two major poll promises—one, abolition of local body tax which replaced Octroi in various municipal corporations in 2013 and two, making roads in the state toll-free. Rampant violation of the national policy of maintaining at least 80 km between two toll booths had become a major political issue in the state in the run-up to the elections.

However, the real challenge before Fadnavis is not the huge financial implications of the two poll promises. The opposition Congress-NCP is in complete disarray after the rude jolt in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly polls. They are in no position to pull up a government over unkept promises. The real source of worry lies within. That includes opposition within the cabinet, from alliance partner Shiv Sena as well as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), the labour and economic wings respectively of Sangh Parivar, an umbrella of various organisations that also houses the ruling BJP.

There is no love lost between Fadnavis and his senior cabinet colleagues like revenue minister Eknath Khadse, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and education minister Vinod Tavade. While Khadse is making no effort to hide his displeasure over the fact that the party leadership ignored his claim for the chief minister’s post despite being senior to Fadnavis, Mungantiwar and Tavade are lying low and waiting for the right moment to strike.

The Sena, which joined government amid acrimony, is proving to be a difficult partner. Its mouthpiece routinely criticises the policies of the state and central government. When asked about criticism in Samana, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray mockingly said, “We have not even yet started crticising the government; what is appearing in Samana are friendly suggestions to government." Ominous words for days ahead.

And when Fadnavis spoke of labour reforms on the lines of Rajasthan, also ruled by BJP, the first to raise the banner of rebellion was not the left-wing trade unions, but fellow traveller BMS. Similarly, after the state government gave its no-objection certificate for field trials of four genetically modified (GM) crops, the harshest criticism came from SJM.

Perhaps Fadnavis can borrow a page or two from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s book on tackling opposition from within. During Modi’s tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, the state government launched a massive drive to cut electricity connections of defaulting farmers and raised farm power tariffs substantially. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), part of the Sangh parivar, launched an agitation but Modi remained firm and did not hesitate to throw BKS activists who tried to disrupt law and order into the jail.

Similarly, Modi displayed considerable political acumen while dealing with internal opponents like former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, home minister during Gujarat riots Gordhan Zadapia, former BJP general secretary Sanjay Joshi and former union minister and Member of Parliament from Surat late Kanshiram Rana. Modi marginalised them from Gujarat politics, before making a grand entry into national politics. However, with detractors waiting to derail his plans, Fadnavis still has a tough journey ahead.

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